Turkey parliament passes contentious bill on electoral pacts

Supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan shout slogans during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey.

ANKARA - The Turkish parliament on Tuesday passed a controversial bill on electoral law which critics argue will favour President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party ahead of next year's double elections.
The 26-article bill was approved in a marathon night-long session of parliament, with ruling party and opposition lawmakers engaged in a short burst of fist fighting.
The bill lifts a ban on electoral alliances, opening the door for a pact between Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The two parties have already announced an alliance and MHP chief Devlet Bahceli rarely utters the slightest criticism of the government.
Such a pact would allow parties to send MPs to parliament even if their party remains below the required 10 percent election threshold.
Parliamentary and presidential elections will take place simultaneously for the first time in November 2019.
After the polls, an executive presidency giving the head of state more powers approved in a referendum last year and decried by Erdogan's opponents takes effect.
Erdogan's government has denied rumours of snap early polls taking advantage of nationalist sentiment over its current operation in Syria, saying that the polls will be held on time.
One of the most controversial measures in the law is the validation of ballot papers that do not bear any official seal. Opponents say this will erode poll safety and encourage fraud.
Meral Danis Bestas, MP of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP), lambasted the haste in the almost 20-hour-long session in the parliament.
"Why? Because the AKP-MHP coalition has rushed this proposal which guarantees its own future and emboldens fascism."
For Bestas, the proposal is an indicator of an early election "at any time."
"Our people will not forget how you hurried to pass this proposal, which validates envelopes without a seal," secular Republican People's Party (CHP) MP Didem Engin said on Twitter, claiming that the AKP-MHP were scared of "safe elections."