As expected, the European Commission has delivered its strongest criticism of Turkey to date.
Key findings of the 2018 Progress Report on Turkey point to negative trends, especially in the areas of rule of law and fundamental rights; serious backsliding on the freedom of expression; inadequate progress in the fight against corruption as well as causes for concern in neighbourly relations and settlement of disputes.
The only area where Turkey has made good progress is in migration and asylum policy.
The state of emergency, declared in the wake of the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, continues to raise serious concerns, prompting the EU to call on Turkey to lift it without delay.
For the European Commission to come up with its most critical report on talks with Turkey did not really surprise outside observers.
Neither, did the Turks, seem nonplussed. Unlike previous years, there was little interest and reaction to the EU’s Progress Report.
The Turkish government dismissed it as “unfair”. Spokesman Bekir Bozdağ said that the EU did not treat Turkey objectively. Pro-government media reported it selectively. State broadcaster TRT headlined its news item as “EU praises Turkey on migration policy”.
As if the EU no longer has any leverage on Turkey, The National Security Council advised to extend the state of emergency for another three months, for the seventh time since the attempted coup.
On the same day, the real surprise, for many, came from Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), allied with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Mr. Bahçeli, claiming the country was under growing external threat and could not hold off until the scheduled date of 2019, called for a snap election this year, on August 26.
The ruling AKP, despite repeatedly dismissing the prospect of an early election up until now, said that they would, indeed, discuss the suggestion. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to meet Mr. Bahçeli on Wednesday.
It is not clear whether Mr Bahçeli’s move was in conjunction with President Erdoğan, a face-saving formula for the government to bring elections forward. This would enable the AKP to capitalise on the increased nationalist fervour following Turkey’s military campaign in Syria and to avoid negative fall-out from the worsening economy.
However, Devlet Bahçeli, who has been leading the ultra-nationalist MHP since 1997, is renowned for pulling rabbits out of his political hat.
By calling early elections in 2002, while serving in a coalition with the Democratic Left Party (DSP) of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and the Motherland Party (ANAP) of Mesut Yılmaz, he had managed to bring the government down. Both parties were wiped out of the political landscape at the election. Mr. Bahçeli’s own party, the MHP, failed to get back into the Parliament.
He was again the kingmaker in 2017. His support for the controversial referendum gave Mr. Erdoğan vastly expanded executive powers, replacing the parliamentary system with the presidential one.
Despite getting into a formal alliance with the AKP in March 2018, it is still perfectly plausible that Mr. Bahçeli may have acted alone. He may have plotted to force President Erdoğan’s hand in bringing the election date forward.
It may also be a pre-emptive move to prevent the breakaway Good Party leader Meral Akşener challenging both himself and President Erdoğan. By bringing the ballot date forward, he may be hoping to disqualify her party competing in the parliamentary and presidential elections.
We will soon discover whether Mr Bahçeli’s call for snap elections is a contrived act with the government or another example of his self-preservation.
Whichever motive it turns out to be, we can be sure it is not because of an “imminent necessity for Turkey’s survival”, as Mr Bahçeli claims.
This post is also available in: Turkish