Ankara (GPA) – President Recep Erdogan’s latest promise in the lead up to the Turkey election is that he will finally lift the state of emergency in place since July 2016.
erdogan turkey elections turkey coup
Pro-Erdogan billboard
Image: Jordan Times

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again shown that despite some recent turmoil, he still plans on winning the Turkey election on the 24th of this month (and a likely second round on July 8th). You can tell he thinks this way based on some of the promises he’s making which he plans to fulfill after the elections.

One example of these kinds of promises recently is Erdogan’s threats to cut ties with Israel following US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Despite having the power to cut his country’s ties with Israel at any time, Erdogan still said he wouldn’t make a decision on the matter until after the elections.

Now Erdogan is making another promise like this saying he will finally end the state of emergency in Turkey that has granted him sweeping powers. This measure has been in place since a failed coup in July of 2016. While this would be a positive development, once again, Erdogan included the caveat that this wouldn’t happen until after the election. Just like the blustering on Israel, Erdogan could easily end the state of emergency now but chooses not to.

Related: Turkey Election: Recep Erdogan Looking at Second-Round Challenge

Whether Erdogan really means what he says is also doubtful, not just because he could end the state of emergency now, but also just due to the fact that he doesn’t keep promises. Once again, looking to his rhetoric on Israel, we see that even after Erdogan threatened to cut ties with Israel, his party still voted to maintain the status quo in parliament. This seems to happen with many of Erdogan’s statements so his latest promise on the state of emergency must be taken with a grain of salt.

Although there is one reason some could believe Erdogan will really follow through on this latest promise: the new powers of the presidency.

One thing Erdogan likes about the current state of emergency is the fact that it grants him extrajudicial powers. Over the course of the past two years, Erdogan has used that power to arrest dissenters, fire opposition teachers, soldiers, and prosecutors, take control of almost all media in Turkey, as well as to pack the courts and purge the security forces. Thousands in Turkey have been fired and arrested at the whim of Erdogan and there is no doubt he likes the ability to simply remove the opposition from the picture.

Related: Who is Recep Tayyip Erdogan and What’s at Stake in the Turkish Election?

The overarching problem of all of this, of course, is that Erdogan likely won’t really need the state of emergency anymore. Instead, Erdogan will have a host of new powers that are all completely legal thanks to the constitutional changes following the controversial 2017 referendum. Thanks to the referendum, if Erdogan does win this election he will be granted new powers – such as being able to dismiss ministers and judges and dissolve parliament – that look almost identical to the emergency powers.

So why did Erdogan even bring this up?

Once you consider all of this, you can see why Erdogan doesn’t really have much to lose by promising to end the state of emergency (and may even gain some points due to the unpopularity of the measure). On top of that, Erdogan likely also mentioned the state of emergency due to international criticism of election integrity under the state of emergency.

One organization to level this criticism was Human Rights Watch (HRW) which said published a story primarily criticizing the current media atmosphere in Turkey. Under the state of emergency, the current President has used his extra authority to silence all dissent in the media, arresting journalists, taking control of private media outlets through an AKP-backed shell company, and clamping down on independent and social media.

Related: ‘Fair’ Elections Impossible in Turkey, Warns Reporters Without Borders

The whole point of the state of emergency – and the AKP’s list of purge targets made before the 2016 coup – is for Erdogan to keep down his opposition. The state of emergency is made for Erdogan to have expansive control of the election process and Turkey’s political atmosphere and changing the state of emergency after the election won’t do anyone any good. Ending the state of emergency after the election also won’t do anyone any good because most of the powers will carry over.

The only way to both ensure a more free discourse in Turkey is for the next President to not just end the state of emergency, but also move to stop the constitutional changes from going into effect. All of the opposition parties in the Turkish election have pledged to do this, but Erdogan doesn’t seem to be worried about that.