Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday formally set May 14 as the date for parliamentary and presidential elections — a month earlier than scheduled despite February’s devastating earthquakes.
"Our nation will go to the polls to elect its president and parliamentarians on May 14," Mr Erdogan said in a speech after signing the election decision.
The election could be the country’s most significant in decades. It will determine whether the country will take a more democratic path or continue on the increasingly authoritarian course set by Mr Erdogan, who is seeking to extend his two-decades in power.
Mr Erdogan has led Turkey since 2003 — first as prime minister and as president since 2014 — but this year’s elections could be his most challenging.
The date for the election appears to have been decided before the February 6 earthquake that devastated large areas of southern Turkey, claiming more than 46,000 lives and leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless.
Mr Erdogan mentions it in a video of a visit to meet young voters in the north-western province of Bursa in January.
"I am grateful to God that we will be walking side by side with you, our first-time voting youth, in the elections that will be held on May 14," he told the group.
He also confirmed the date in an announcement to his Justice and Development Party (AKP) last week.
The vote will be held as Turkey struggles with an economic downturn, soaring inflation and the aftermath of the earthquake.
Many have criticised the government’s response to the earthquake and accuse it of failing to prepare the earthquake-prone country for such a disaster.
Experts have pointed at lax enforcement of building codes as a major reason why the earthquake was so deadly.
Opinion polls show the parliamentary and presidential elections will be tight, and will be Mr Erdogan's biggest test in his two decades at the helm of the regional military power, Nato member and major emerging market economy.
He faces a tough challenge from opposition groups that have banded together to try to end his grip on power.
Earlier this week, Turkey’s disparate opposition parties, including nationalists, Islamists and conservatives, ended month of uncertainty that had frustrated supporters of the anti-Erdogan bloc and nominated a joint candidate to run against him.
The six opposition parties, which say they want to roll back the erosion of rights and freedoms, united behind Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the centre-left, secularist Republican People’s Party, or CHP.