Turkey’s parliament passed sweeping changes to election laws designed to strengthen President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s grip on power.
During a debate lasting almost 24 hours, opposition groups in the Ankara parliament warned that the changes opened the way to electoral fraud and undermined the election process. The legal changes were passed in the early hours of Wednesday as debate continued overnight.
Erdoğan and his governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) are seeking re-election in a vote scheduled for November next year, when Turkey’s full presidential system of government, approved in a controversial referendum last year, take full effect. Turkey currently has a parliamentary system of government.
As well as allowing Erdoğan’s AKP to form election alliances with other parties, the legal amendments mean the authorities can appoint government officials to run polling stations, let the security services monitor voting, relocate ballot boxes on security grounds and permit the counting of unstamped ballot papers, a step that caused a storm of controversy at last year’s referendum.
The European Union has warned of growing authoritarianism in Turkey following a failed military coup in July 2016, calling on Erdoğan to lift a state of emergency that allows him to rule by decree.
The timing of the legal amendments has raised speculation that Erdoğan will bring elections forward to benefit from nationalist fervor surrounding a military incursion into Syria and economic measures designed to stimulate the economy. The government denies such plans are afoot, saying elections will take place as scheduled, starting with local elections next spring.
Erdoğan needs to secure more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election in order to avoid a runoff with another candidate. The referendum last April was won with 51 percent approval.
The opposition, led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), say the legal amendments allow the government to rig the elections, potentially rendering any challenge to Erdoğan irrelevant.