Monday, 14 May 2012, 07:44 GMT
Turkey's debate over presidential system returns

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a fashion conference in Istanbul, May 3, 2012./ PHOTO By AP

The KUrdish Globe
By Mehmed Sabri Akgönül

Discussions of a system change occupy Turkish political agenda

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent statement reopened the debate on changing to a presidential system instead of the current parliamentary one. In a press conference in Slovenia, Erdogan said the option to switch to a presidential system should be discussed while drafting the new Turkish constitution. "The process of preparing a new constitution has started. Adopting the presidential system can be discussed during this time. We must discuss all issues. We may discuss whether this new constitution will include the presidential system or a semi-presidential system. These can all be discussed," he said.

Erdogan underscored that Turkish parliament would have the final say on this issue. "If Turkish parliament decides Turkey can switch to presidential or a semi-presidential system, we would then not be able to say anything further," he noted. Although Erdogan firmly believes that all members of parliament of the Justice and Development Party, known as AKP, will support a presidential or semi-presidential system, it is impossible to say that the other three main parties in Turkish parliament would offer their support for this change.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul also spoke about the recent debate on Turkey's possible switch to a presidential system. Gul was opposed to the transition to a presidential system when Erdogan first suggested it in 2011 but now he seems coy on the matter. Gul said this issue is nothing new by saying, "This debate had previously occupied the Turkish state's political agenda." He also noted that the issue can be discussed by considering the pros and cons of a possible switch to presidential or semi-presidential system and should be seriously analyzed.

On the possible switch to a presidential system, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said there must be discussion of the presidential system while the new constitution is being written in the name of more political stability. He criticized current parliamentary system in Turkey. He said existing system does not fully reflect a parliamentary system and it is not effective to apply the principle of the separation of powers. "A presidential system enables the most effective supervision. This system will make all three powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary more powerful and will bring a real sense independence of one another," he said.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who has spoken out against the issue of a presidential system in the past, also lent support to discussions on this long-debated issue. He said new ideas can thrive at the negotiation table of the commission for writing of a new constitution. "It should be given an opportunity for people who advocate that a better system could be possible for Turkey. I think we should be able to talk both about a presidential and a semi-presidential system, like in France," he added. He also called on everyone involved to speak up about switching to a presidential or semi-presidential system.

At a ceremony held to mark the 144th anniversary of the establishment of the Council of State, its head, Huseyin Karakullukcu, clearly stated that he supports a possible presidential or semi-presidential system by saying his court considers the presidential system be a more democratic administration model. Karakullukcu has become the first high judiciary member publicly backing AKP's proposal to change Turkey's administrative system. "We [as the Council of State] reflect that presidential system would bring many certain advantages, including political stability, positive impact on the economy, and successful separation of powers," he added. He also said the Council of State is ready to offer any help needed in writing the new constitution and emphasized that the new constitution must clearly define that Turkish Republic is a democratic and secular state.

On the other hand, opposition parties in Turkey heavily criticized the AKP government and Erdogan for sabotaging the Constitutional Commission's work, along with the presidential system discussions. MPs of the main opposition Republican People's Party, known as CHP, argue that Erdogan was seeking authoritarian rule or a sultanate-like system. CHP is against a presidential system on the grounds that it is not convenient for the Turkish state's structures. CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu issued a statement on this issue and defined the presidential system debate as "an artificial agenda." Also, CHP deputy chairman Erdogan Toprak said in a written statement that the AKP government proposal for a presidential system shows Erdogan's passion "in order to get himself a throne and a sultanate." He also noted that a presidential system will open the door for "dictatorship, but not to democracy."

The leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, known as MHP, Devlet Bahceli, said his party strongly opposes the idea of a presidential system. "We will refuse any changes [referring the transition to a presidential system] that will erode basic characteristics of the Turkish state and Turkish nation and damage our unitarian structure. We still maintain our idea that the Turkish state must progress to its aims with a parliamentary system," he noted. Besides, Mehmet Sandir, deputy parliamentary group leader of the MHP, said he accepts the problems of the current parliamentary system, but, he argued, these problems could not be solved through a presidential system: "the solution is a democratic parliamentary system."

The co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, known as BDP, Selahattin Demirtas also opposed the AKP's proposal for presidential system, by stating the AKP has a secret agenda concerning the constitutional amendment process and was acting in accordance with its secret agenda. In regards to the recent debate regarding the presidential or semi-presidential system, Demirtas said the model of a presidential system doesn't comply with Turkey's political conditions adding that "it has a risk of leading to dictatorship within the scope of AKP's political mindset."

Since former President Turgut Ozal's term, the presidential system is a controversial issue that occasionally comes into the Turkish political agenda. Erdogan, who supports a presidential system, has also expressed many times in the past that the most effective system for Turkey is a presidential system. It is not a secret that Erdogan intends to be the first president of Turkey under a possible presidential system. However, the makeup of the Turkish parliament is not amenable to switch to the presidential system. Erdogan will constrain all channels for the sake of a presidential system. Erdogan would have to gain the support of the three main parties (CHP, MHP and BDP) to achieve his purpose. But other political parties would not agree to such a system change. In this situation, there is no way to pass a presidential or semi-presidential system without a referendum. Under these circumstances, this matter will be the most active debate in a long time and the final decision will affect both internal affairs and Turkey's foreign policy.