When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for a presidential and parliamentary election June 24 -- jumping the gun by more than a year -- the outcome seemed foreordained: the country is under a state of emergency, Erdogan has imprisoned more than 50,000 of his opponents, dismissed 140,000 from their jobs, jailed a presidential candidate, and launched an attack on Syria's Kurds, that is popular with most Turks.
But Erdogan's seemingly overwhelming strength is not as solid as it appears, and the moves the President is making to insure a victory next month may come back to haunt him in the long run.
There is a great deal at stake in the June vote. Based on the outcome of a referendum last year, Turkey will move from a parliamentary system to one based on a powerful executive presidency. But the referendum vote was very close, and there is widespread suspicion that Erdogan's narrow victory was fraudulent.
This time around, Turkey's President is taking no chances. The electoral law has been taken out of the hands of the independent electoral commission and turned over to civil servants, whose employment is dependent on the government. The state of emergency will make campaigning by anything but Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally, the National Action Party (MHP), problematical.
But Erdogan called for early elections not because he is strong, but because he is nervous about the AKP's strong suit, the economy. While growth is solid, unemployment is 11 percent (21 percent for youth), debts are piling up and inflation -- 12 percent in 2017 -- is eating away at standards of living.
The AKP's 16-year run in power is based on raising income for most Turks, but wages fell 2 percent over the past year, and the lira plunged 7.5 percent in the last quarter, driving up the price of imported goods. Standard & Poor's recently downgraded Turkish bonds to junk status.
Up until now, the government has managed to keep people happy by handing out low interest loans, pumping up the economy with subsidies and giving bonuses to pensioners. But the debt keeps rising, and investment--particularly the foreign variety-- is lagging. The Turkish economy appears headed for a fall, and Erdogan wants to secure the presidency before that happens.
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