More than a dozen Turkish opposition lawmakers switched parties Sunday in a show of solidarity as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rivals scramble to challenge him in a surprise snap election that could solidify his rule.
A year ago, Erdogan narrowly won a referendum to change Turkey’s form of government to an executive presidency, abolishing the office of the prime minister and giving the president more powers. The change will take effect after the next elections.
The snap elections, called for June, caught Turkey off guard and come as the opposition is in disarray as it struggles to put forward candidates and campaign plans. The elections were initially supposed to take place in November 2019.
Officials from the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said 15 of its lawmakers would join the Iyi Party. The CHP, which is the main opposition party, said the decision was borne out of “democratic disposition.”
The center-right Iyi Party, established last fall, has been facing eligibility issues before the June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, including not having enough seats in parliament.
The Iyi Party, which means “Good Party,” now has 20 lawmakers in parliament, enough to form a political group, satisfying an eligibility requirement. It wasn’t immediately clear if they would be asked to fulfill other requirements, including establishing organizations in half of Turkey’s provinces and completing its general congress, all to be completed six months before voting day.
But the party said it had already fulfilled those requirements as well.
That timing has posed a challenge after Erdogan agreed Wednesday to hold the elections more than a year ahead of schedule.
Iyi Party founder Meral Aksener, a former interior minister, is considered a serious contender against Erdogan and has announced her candidacy. She defected from Turkey’s main nationalist party allied with Erdogan, whose leader Devlet Bahceli called for the early elections.
Aksener, 61, can run for the presidency even without her party, if she can get 100,000 signatures from the public.
Turkey’s electoral board has yet to announce the presidential candidates and parties eligible to run.