Turkey’s main opposition leader has said the country will hold its presidential and parliamentary elections as scheduled this year and that postponing the vote due to powerful earthquakes which struck the country’s southeast last week was impossible, the Deutsche Welle’s Turkish edition reported.
The official death toll in Turkey from the Feb. 6 magnitude-7.8 and 7.5 earthquakes that affected 10 provinces in southeastern Turkey had exceeded more than 35,000 as of Wednesday.
Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who spoke at a news conference at party headquarters in Ankara on Wednesday, accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of seeking to postpone the elections by using the earthquake as a pretext.
“They [the government] are making some figures up [in favor of postponing the elections]. They are talking about postponing them. Let me say this very clearly to all my people: Elections will be held as scheduled,” said the CHP leader.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç of the AKP on Monday called for the postponement of the elections, citing the need for the government to focus on recovery efforts. However, experts and opposition politicians have criticized the idea as unconstitutional.
Kılıçdaroğlu said elections can be postponed only in the event of a war according to the Turkish Constitution and that parliament has to make the decision even in that case.
He said there is no reference to a natural disaster as the cause of the postponement of an election in the constitution while he warned the country’s election body, the Supreme Board of Election (YSK), against the consequences of such a move.
“If the YSK makes such a demand [for the postponement of the elections], it will have dealt a blow to democracy,” said the opposition politician.
Rumors of a postponement began circulating after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his commitment to completing reconstruction in the earthquake-stricken region within a year.
Journalist Fatih Altaylı claimed on Feb. 13 that the elections might be postponed for at least six months, possibly a year.
Elections were originally scheduled to be held in June 2023, five years after the 2018 elections. President Erdoğan expressed his intention to hold the elections on May 14, a plan that now seems uncertain.
Erdoğan is seeking re-election, but an opposition bloc of the six political parties, which includes the CHP, has not yet announced their candidate.
Many say Erdoğan will seek the postponement of the elections because his chances of winning the presidency again have diminished further due to his government’s poor handling of the earthquake disaster.