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Erdogan's nationalist ally ignites Turkey snap poll talk

© AFP | Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chief Devlet Bahceli said Turkey could not wait for elections in November 2019

ISTANBUL (AFP) - 

The main nationalist ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday ramped up expectations that elections could be brought forward by over a year by urging snap polls in August.

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) chief Devlet Bahceli said Turkey could not wait for the scheduled date of November 3, 2019 to hold simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections and urged that the polls be held on August 26.

The government reacted sanguinely to the suggestion, saying it would evaluate Bahceli's call. Erdogan is due to hold a crunch meeting with Bahceli on Wednesday afternoon.

"In this situation it is not possible to wait until November 3, 2019," Bahceli said in a televised meeting of MHP lawmakers in Ankara.

"On August 26, 2018 the Turkish nation should go to the ballot box in the spirit of marking a new victory," he added.

Turkish politics has for the past months fizzed with speculation the elections could be brought forward, with analysts saying this would neutralise the risk of the economy deteriorating in the next months.

It is after these upcoming elections that the new executive presidency -- agreed in a 2017 referendum and denounced by the opposition as giving the head of state authoritarian powers -- will come into force.

The polls will also give Erdogan a chance to extend his stay in power with a new five year mandate, after already serving 15 years in power as premier and then president.

- 'Early polls more likely' -

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara Office Director of the German Marshall Fund of the US, said that Bahceli's call "has made early elections more likely".

"If President Erdogan does not intend to go to early elections he will now need to make a more clear binding promise that he will not," he told AFP.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, quoted by Turkish media, said that the government would "consider" Bahceli's call, which he said had created a "new situation". Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said early polls would be "positive".

With Bahceli's call dominating the Turkish headlines, Erdogan declined to directly comment on the intervention, saying "right now I have nothing to say about it".

He said he did not want to add to an earlier speech to lawmakers, where he had repeatedly referred to the elections taking place in November 2019.

But Turkish media said Erdogan, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman were holding an unscheduled meeting in parliament.

Erdogan has formed a tight alliance with the MHP in recent months with the aim of fighting the elections together and the two parties have rarely had any recent disagreements in public.

Bahceli, who has led the MHP since 1997, used to be an outspoken critic of Erdogan but has closely aligned with the president since the July 2016 failed coup aimed at ousting him from power.

- 'Regardless of the costs' -

The date of August 26 would coincide with the anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt where pre-Ottoman tribes defeated the Byzantines in a victory celebrated with increasing fervour in modern Turkey in recent years.

Bahceli's comments took markets by surprise with the lira sharply losing value but then slightly making up the losses to trade at 4.1 to the dollar, a loss in value of 0.34 percent on the day.

While growth in Turkey was 7.4 percent in 2017, economists have raised concerns that double digit inflation, a wide current account deficit, and an almost nine percent fall in the value of the lira this year showed severe risks ahead.

Economists say that the government wants to keep the economy booming to create a positive momentum ahead of the elections.

"The government appears determined to keep the economy growing rapidly ahead of national elections... regardless of the costs," credit ratings agency Moody's said in a note this week.

© 2018 AFP