Around 13.5% of the country’s population lives in the region where the February 6, 2023, Kahramanmaraş earthquake occurred. According to official figures, at the end of the first six days, the death toll as a result of the massive destruction was close to 30,000, with more than 90,000 injured. Much of the region’s building stock has been destroyed, leaving tens of thousands homeless. People have already started migrating out of the region, moving in with relatives and friends elsewhere, trying to build a new life. It will take months for life to return to normal, both in and outside the region that has been adversely affected. State institutions need to quickly fix disruptions in public services such as basic electricity, water, gas, transportation and communication, restore damaged state institutions to working order, record population changes caused by migration and update all records.
Today is not the day to talk about elections, but some need to be reminded of this, because those who were thinking of bringing the elections forward are now starting to suggest postponing them until after June 18, 2023.
Elections cannot be postponed
The address-based population registers and the voter registers created from them, which have undergone major changes due to deaths, injuries and migration, must be updated as soon as daily life and population movements in the region return to normal. It is also necessary to make the facilities in the region safe for the elections to take place, to address other deficiencies and eliminate disruptions, and to allow the public to freely engage in electoral activities and voting without restrictions. All these and other preparations must be completed 60 days before voting day.
This prevents President Erdoğan from deciding to renew the elections on March 10, 2023, and even if he does so, the Supreme Board of Elections (YSK) is prevented from implementing this decision. Therefore, Türkiye cannot go to the polls on May 14, 2023.
On the other hand, the 2023 elections, the election period for which will start 60 days before June 18, 2023, cannot be postponed by the parliament or the president for any reason except in the case of “war and the impossibility of holding elections due to war,” pursuant to Article 78 of the Constitution, Article 5 of Presidential Election Law No. 6271 and Article 6 of Parliamentary Election Law No. 2839. Even if there is a state of war, elections must be held unless it is impossible to hold elections despite the war.
A tweaked and distorted view of a Constitutional Court decision
One popular columnist cites the declaration of a state of emergency in the earthquake zone as an unconstitutional way for the government to postpone the elections. The columnist tweaks a few words from a sentence in the Constitutional Court’s decision no. 2012/30-96 and presents it as proof that “the government has another leverage (tool) to postpone the elections,” but this relies on an addition that is contrary to the decision. At the end of his article, the columnist writes that “the text of the decision paves the way for the postponement of elections in the event that ‘it is de facto impossible to hold elections due to war and similar reasons of necessity.’ This decision is clearly against the Constitution. But it was made. If the government […] decides to postpone […] the judges of the Constitutional Court may know,” implying that the politicized Constitutional Court could lead to such a postponement.
In order to make this insinuation, the columnist tweaks the words “the actual impossibility of holding elections due to war and similar reasons of necessity” from a long sentence in the long justification of the Constitutional Court’s ruling, adds “paves the way for the postponement of [the elections],” contrary to the ruling, band thus presents the sentence differently than it is. In other words, he deliberately changes the ruling towards a certain purpose; even more plainly: he manipulates it.
The Constitutional Court says the opposite about the election
The decision does not state anything like what the columnist claims. The relevant part of the long sentence among the justifications of the Constitutional Court’s 2012 decision reads as follows: “in the event that the elections cannot be held in the event of a necessity arising from war or any other reason, the president whose term has expired will continue to serve even if there is no postponement decision.”
As can be seen, the sentence in the decision does not mean that the election will be postponed, but that, in case of necessity, the current president will continue in office until a new one is elected. The columnist both picks and chooses with and makes an addition that changes the meaning of the sentence. It is worth noting that this sentence is based on Article 102 of the Constitution, which was repealed in 2017 and does not apply to 2023.
On the other hand, in the aforementioned decision, the Constitutional Court states that in Article 5 of Law No. 6271, “there is no unconstitutional aspect in the regulation of postponement of elections in cases where it is not possible to hold elections due to a force majeure such as war.” As a matter of fact, Article 5 of Law No. 6217 on Presidential Elections stipulates that the elections will be postponed for one year in cases where “it is not possible to hold new elections due to war.”
Put differently, the Constitutional Court confirms that elections can be postponed only “if the conduct of elections becomes impossible due to war.” Concluding from this decision that the 2023 elections may be postponed on the grounds of the declaration of a regional state of emergency due to the earthquake is an extremely faulty conclusion that can only be reached with an extraordinary stretch of the imagination, because there is no state of war and there is no impossibility of holding elections.
Responsible behavior is everyone’s civil duty
The columnist’s attempt to interpret a case of the Constitutional Court beyond his field of expertise may be excusable to some extent; nevertheless, it is not possible to consider it as a mistake and tolerate it as a mistake if he pulls out a small part of a sentence from a longer sentence of justification and adds wording at the end that is not included in the sentence to change its meaning and say something that the original does not say.
Furthermore, it is not responsible behavior for the columnist to present a decision that he calls “clearly contrary to the Constitution” by saying that the government can use it as “a lever to postpone the elections,” and to suggest that the Constitution and the constitutional order can be used at the whim of judges and that the government can use this as justification for postponing elections, even though the Constitution and Law No. 6271 clearly state that “it is impossible to hold new elections due to war” is a condition for postponement.
The election must be held on June 18
The 2023 elections must be held in the usual timeframe, concluding with voting on June 18, 2023. Despite the extraordinary conditions that have emerged after the earthquake, the mandatory administrative actions to be taken and the provisions of the Constitution that bind everyone make this obligatory.
All politicians in power and opposition and all opinion leaders should act in a responsible manner, those who create disturbances and mischief should be purged, and the people and the state should focus on healing wounds, on the one hand, and taking precautions against expected earthquakes in the future, on the other hand. Politicians should put aside their calculations and fights for power and dirty games such as moving the elections ahead or postponing them, and the people should go to the polls on the usual date and elect the people they believe will best govern the country and prepare it for these difficult conditions.
President Erdoğan, other political party leaders and the Supreme Electoral Council should inform the public on these issues, any ambiguous issues should be clarified quickly by consensus, and the public, already struggling with the aftermath of catastrophic destruction, should be saved from dealing with election debates and confusion.