Is Turkey heading for a snap election in 2022?

Despite the fact that the leaders of the current governing alliance (Cumhur İttifakı– People’s Alliance) deny the possibility of a snap election, my short answer to the question in the title is “yes.” Two factors justify my reasoning. The first is the current economic crisis and the government’s response to it. The second is the governing coalition’s attempts to demonize the main opposition party. In this short piece, I will explain these factors with an emphasis on the latter.

Turkish economic crisis

The main factor behind the present economic crisis in Turkey is political, as the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan insists on artificially low-interest rates. Erdoğan’s resistance to increase the interest rates caused a severe depreciation of the Turkish Lira (TL) against major currencies (e.g. 78 percent depreciation against the USD in 2021). This also resulted in high inflation, which, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TURKSTAT), was 36.08 percent in 2021.

The government, lacking foreign exchange to prevent the depreciation of the lira, has mobilized unorthodox macroeconomic measures (i.e., deposit accounts protected against TL’s depreciation), while using economic populism to protect its support within the most disadvantaged segments of the society. For instance, the minimum wage for 2022 was increased by 50.4 percent, a ratio much higher than the official inflation rate. This is a very important move in a country where 42 percent of the employees earn the minimum wage. Given the increasing trend in Turkish inflation, the government needs to act swiftly if they want to reap the benefits of the minimum wage raise in the elections. Recent public opinion polls register important losses in the votes of the Cumhur İttifakı a situation that raises doubts about these measures’ ability to stop the decline in electoral support. Under these circumstances, the government does not have much time and hence a snap election has become more likely in 2022.

Securitization of the elections    

Doubts about the government’s ability to mend its losses through economic populism bring us to the second reason to think that a snap election might be on the horizon in 2022. In a recent article published in New Perspectives on Turkey, I extensively discussed how the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) was able to increase its votes by 8.6 percent between the June 2015 and November 2015 general elections. In that article, I suggested, “(…) one of the reasons for the AKP’s ability to reverse the election results in less than five months was its ability to create perceptions of ontological insecurity and to securitize the elections by building upon people’s ontological insecurity perceptions” (p. 26). I furthermore argued that the AKP had used the Kurdish question as an instrument to mobilize a new discourse that emphasized existential threats (i.e. terrorism) against the nation. The strategy proved successful and the AKP increased its votes while the opposition votes stagnated for the main opposition Republican People’s Party – CHP) and decreased for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Following this victory, the AKP doubled down on this strategy by arresting the HDP leaders and replacing the HDP mayors with government trustees.

What we have been witnessing recently shows that the AKP has entered a new stage in this strategy. After November 2015, it became a common practice for the government leaders to suggest that other opposition parties (foremost the CHP and Good Party – IYIP) are in alliance with the allegedly “pro-terror” HDP or illegal organizations such as the Fethullah Jamaat. For example, in the 2019 local elections, the government leaders argued that the opposition mayors would recruit members of terrorist organizations if elected. Nevertheless, these accusations remained at a discursive level and the government abstained from taking any action against the CHP or IYIP mayors. This situation has begun to change recently.

On 26 December 2021, Süleyman Soylu, the hawkish Minister of Interior Affairs, announced that the Ministry has started an investigation into the claims that hundreds of employees recruited by the CHP-controlled İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality are connected with terrorist organizations such as the Kurdish PKK or the leftist DHKP-C. This incident might be a signpost for the looming snap election in 2022, as this is the first occasion where the government attempts to materialize its accusations against the major opposition party. This is a bold and risky movement on the part of the government.

The conflictual past between Kurds and the Turkish state has caused, I have argued, “Turks to establish an exclusionary and antagonistic relationship with Kurds” (p. 22). Accordingly, it was much easier for the AKP to convince the nationalist-conservative voters that the HDP is a “legal arm of terrorism.” The CHP does not carry similar historical baggage. In fact, throughout its long history, the CHP has been known to be a party associated with the Kemalist state elite. Until recently, the CHP had voted in favor of mandates allowing the Turkish Army to conduct operations against the Kurdish armed groups in Syria. Given these, the governing coalition will have a difficult time convincing conservative nationalist people that the CHP “is serving terrorism.”  In spite of this, they are determined to investigate the claims that some employees working in the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality are associated with terrorism. The chance of success for this investigation is slim and likely to be short-term especially if not accompanied by serious evidence. And the fact that despite its obvious disadvantages, the government is willing to push for this investigation shows its determination to rely on divisive and polarizing tactics in its attempts to prevent further decline in its voter support. However, they know that the timing is crucial for success and unless the next elections are not near, this investigation would be a futile attempt to weaken the opposition. I, therefore, suggest that a snap election is knocking on the door though Erdoğan and his coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli reject the claims.

The year 2022 is going to be a challenging year for Turkey. Political instability accompanied by pressing economic problems will make the country more and more unpredictable while causing a further decline in the support for the governing Cumhur İttifakı. The government might have already pushed for the button for a snap election and everybody should brace for impact.

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