ANKARA: Turkey’s top security body on Tuesday recommended extending the state of emergency imposed since a failed July 2016 coup for a seventh time, despite mounting calls from Ankara’s partners to lift it.
The state of emergency was introduced five days after the July 15 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but critics say it has been used to crack down on his opponents and stifle the media.
The National Security Council (MGK), after a meeting chaired by Erdogan, said in a statement it had agreed to recommend the emergency should be extended for three more months. The latest extension was due to come to an end on Thursday.
The next step is for parliament to approve the extension but this is viewed as a formality.
The attempted coup was blamed by Turkey on a former Erdogan ally, the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement.
Although Gulen denies the claims, Turkish authorities have used emergency powers to arrest over 50,000 people accused of links to his group as well as Kurdish militants.
Meanwhile, more than 140,000 public sector employees have also been sacked or suspended, including judges, police officers and teachers.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Monday organised rallies across Turkey to protest against the emergency, including a demonstration in Istanbul and Ankara.
The party listed the impact of the state of emergency on freedom of expression and the economy, especially the Turkish lira which has lost over five per cent of its value against the US dollar in the past month.
Snap poll in Aug?
The main nationalist ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday ramped up expectations that elections could be brought forward by over a year by urging snap polls in August.
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chief Devlet Bahceli said Turkey “could not wait” for the scheduled date of Nov 3, 2019, to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections, urging that the polls take place on Aug 26.
The government reacted sanguinely to the suggestion, saying it would evaluate Bahceli’s call. Erdogan is due to hold a meeting with him on Wednesday afternoon.
“On August 26, 2018, the Turkish nation should go to the ballot box in the spirit of marking a new victory,” Bahceli said in a televised meeting of MHP lawmakers in Ankara.
Turkish politics has for the past months fizzed with speculation the elections could be brought forward, with analysts saying this would neutralise the risk of the economy deteriorating in the next months.
It is after these upcoming elections that the new executive presidency — agreed in a 2017 referendum and denounced by the opposition as giving the head of state authoritarian powers — will come into force.
The polls will also give Erdogan a chance to extend his stay in power with a new-five year mandate, after already serving 15 years in power as premier and then president.
‘Early polls more likely’
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara Office Director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said that Bahceli’s call “has made early elections more likely”.
“If President Erdogan does not intend to go to early elections he will now need to make a more clear binding promise that he will not,” he said.
Commentators recalled it was Bahceli, then part of a ruling coalition, who in 2002 precipitated the snap polls that brought Erdogan’s Justice and Development
Party (AKP) to power in the first place. It has ruled Turkey ever since.
Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, quoted by Turkish media, said that the government would “consider” Bahceli’s call, which he said had created a “new situation”. Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said early polls would be “positive”.