In the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes that have shaken Türkiye and Syria into ruins, Turkish politics have embroiled in discussions about the possibility of postponement of the critical 2023 elections that is scheduled for June 18.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu accused President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) of considering delaying the June 18 elections in a bid to dampen public reactions after the disaster.
“Since there is no war, elections cannot be postponed,” Kılıçdaroğlu said to YetkinReport on February 14, citing Article 78 of the Constitution, which stipulates that the elections can only be postponed in case of war.
Türkiye’s 10 cities, which were home to 13,5 million citizens, were almost flattened by the two major earthquakes on February 6, the magnitudes of which were 7.7 and 7.8. The region, including northern Syria, has continued to be shaken by more than 2,000 aftershocks, the greatest of which was 6.6 in magnitude, in the following week.
One week after the disaster, the death toll reached more than 31,000, as it has been reported that there are still some regions that haven’t received any aid. The need for shelter and food is still a major concern in the cities of Hatay, Adyaman, and Kahramanmaraş, where the impact of the quakes was devastating.
Constitution to be amended to postpone elections
Amid rising criticisms of the official search and rescue efforts for not being efficiently coordinated, which resulted in dire conditions, the ruling AKP officials have started to bring up discussions on the postponement of the elections.
President Erdoğan had already sparked a debate about moving the election to May 14 by making statements prior to the earthquakes, a decision that requires a majority vote in parliament.
Following the disaster, AKP’s Bülent Arınç, a prominent member who had taken major roles in previous AKP governments, remarked in a written statement that elections should be postponed with urgency. He said that the constitution “can be amended” with the initiative of legislation “if wanted.”
His comments further fueled the arguments on the dates of the elections, where the opposition refused to take any action “against the constitution.”
Kılıçdaroğlu: The Constitution is unambiguous
CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu criticised the arguments over the elections, urging the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) to set the date immediately.
“The Constitution is very clear,” Kılıçdaroğlu said.
“Elections can only be postponed in cases of war. Since there is no war, elections cannot be postponed. No one can create a legal norm of their own by inventing justifications outside the Constitution and laws,” he said.
Let’s open a parenthesis here: IYI Party leader Meral Akşener recently emphasised that the elections should be held on June 18, adding that politicians have a duty to make the elections happen.
“Set the date, let the YSK work”
Kılıçdaroğlu responded Arınç’s remarks harshly. As Arınç said to include an addendum to the constitution that may pave the way for postponement of the elections in case of disaster, Kılıçdaroğlu said, “It is creating a legal norm for one person for one time.”
“There is no such understanding in democracies. Not even in tribal states. Moreover, the Constitution is so clear that there is no room for interpretation. There is also an article in the Constitution stating that no privileges can be granted to any person, class, or group,” he said.
He stated that the main opposition acknowledges the devastating effects of the earthquake and is “aware that a huge number of people are displaced,” which might have an effect on the elections.
“However, with today’s technological means, these problems can be easily overcome,” he said.
“First of all, everyone has a T.C. number. The Supreme Board of Elections has everyone’s identity information. It is also possible to easily detect changes of address,” he added.
“When the date of the elections becomes clear, the Supreme Board of Elections sits down, works, organises all this, and creates the voter lists,” he said.
“The YSK is not their backyard”
Answering the question over the AKP’s influence over the top elective body, Kılıçdaroğlu said even though the accusations about the ruling party’s influence are based on previous decisions, “it is a shameful picture.”
“Underneath the demands to postpone the elections, there is a will to avoid the elections. However, they want to implement this will through the YSK. In other words, they want to make special, one-off decisions according to their own interests. Mr. Arınç’s statement shows this,” he said.
“The YSK’s refraining from behaviours and decisions that would give this impression would reinforce trust in the judiciary. “Other behaviours will accelerate the already declining reputation of the judiciary,” he said, adding that the AKP regards the judiciary as “its backyard.”
“Set the date”
“I am talking about the rules stipulated by the Constitution and the law. In a state of law, the rule of law is the main rule of law. No judicial institution has the right or the authority to violate the Constitution and the laws. They want to avoid the election. What needs to be done is to set the election date urgently and allow the YSKto do its job,” he said.
“The first thing to do is to urgently set the election date and allow the SBE to start preparations for the elections. What must be done as soon as tomorrow is to set the election date,” he added.
Kılıçdaroğlu also added that he would not anticipate the ruling party to act on the postponement of the elections.
“I don’t think they would attempt this. I don’t think they would attempt this if there is law, if there is the rule of law, if judges have a conscience. According to the Constitution, judges decide according to the rule of law and their conscience,” he said