Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called snap elections, bringing Turkey's parliamentary and presidential polls forward by more than a year as concerns grow about the health of the economy and flagging support for his ruling party.
The Turkish president had repeatedly ruled out the prospect of early polls, insisting they would be held in November next year as planned. He sought to justify the sudden U-turn by citing national security concerns, including instability in Syria and Iraq, and the need to hasten the transition to an executive presidency.
"Even though the president and government are working in unison, the diseases of the old system confront us at every step we take," Mr Erdogan told a press conference on Wednesday. "Developments in Syria and elsewhere have made it urgent to switch to the new executive system in order to take steps for our country's future in a stronger way."
Mr Erdogan narrowly won a contentious constitutional referendum last year that fulfilled his long-held ambition for the country to switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system. However, the wafer-thin margin of victory rattled the president and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The amendments to the constitution, which enable Mr Erdogan to stand for another two terms, will come into force after polls on June 24th.
The announcement of the snap elections comes amid growing warnings about vulnerabilities in the economy. Although it expanded by 7.4 per cent last year, the growth was fuelled by government incentives that economists say have led to economic imbalances, including a widening current account deficit and persistent double-digit inflation.
The concerns have sent the Turkish lira plummeting to record lows against the dollar and the euro.
"There is the perception that the economy will start to become a handicap in the following months," said Sinan Ulgen, chair of the Istanbul-based think-tank Edam. "How much of a handicap, no one really knows but it seems that Mr Erdogan does not want to take the risk."
The lira and Turkish bonds rallied at the announcement.
"That reaction appears to reflect hopes in the market that this will reduce political uncertainty," said William Jackson, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.
Mr Jackson warned, however, that it could also increase the danger of populist policy decisions. “It raises the risk of looser fiscal and monetary policy ahead of the vote, which could push up inflation and exacerbate the external vulnerabilities that have built up recently,” he said.
The announcement of snap elections came after a prompt from Devlet Bahceli, the leader of an ultranationalist party that has formed an election pact with AKP. Both men hope an early vote and short election campaign will limit the ability of the opposition to organise.
One challenge could come from Meral Aksener, who broke away from Mr Bahceli's party last year and founded a new centre-right party. But her new group has faced claims that it would not be eligible to enter elections. Commentators in pro-government media outlets have argued that the IYI, or Good party, does not fulfil a condition that requires political parties to have held their founding congress at least six months before an election.
The IYI is not currently on the Supreme Election Council’s list of eligible parties. But Ms Aksener insisted that it would take part, saying that they were “motivated and ambitious”.
Mr Erdogan has previously voiced concerns about the challenges posed by the next round of elections. Some in the AKP privately worry that its voters have tired of the party after more than 15 years in power.
Still, Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, is widely expected to win five more years in office. The election is likely to take place under a state of emergency, imposed after an attempted coup in July 2016, that places restrictions on public gatherings. Almost all of the largest newspapers and television stations are owned by businessmen with close ties to the government. Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic former leader of the opposition People's Democratic party (HDP) is behind bars. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018