Turkey’s second republic
The prime ministerial position, which has existed for more than a millennium in the Turkish administrative system, from the Seljuk era, to the Ottoman times and the republic since 1923, is now abolished. From now, the cabinet will be formed by the president, which is the case in some countries in the world.
The difference in what they call the “presidential government system” is that the president will be able to stay as party chair too. So Erdoğan will have the say in parliament and as the chair of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), a situation which makes the line between the executive and legislative powers of the government not very thick. Erdoğan says the new system will strengthen the separation of powers because he will not employ any ministers to his cabinet from the parliament, and if he does, the MP would have to resign from parliament. But that seems rather like a formality justification. The president’s capacity to appoint some high judges to the Constitutional Court and some through his parliamentary power could be considered as a factor weakening the already-not-so-strong checks-and-balances system in Turkey, which is balanced on paper with a clause in the new Constitution that makes the president questionable by courts with a parliamentary majority.
This transformation was not that easy for Erdoğan, and it took him some 11 years. When the AK Parti took power in 2002, Erdoğan was against the presidential system and found it undemocratic. A series of unfortunate events starting in 2007 changed his mind radically. First, there were the military’s statements against the election of AK Parti’s candidate Abdullah Gül as president, and then by parliament. Erdoğan called snap elections, refreshed his support and declared a referendum with the help of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), for the popular election of the president. He got Gül elected with the support of Bahçeli then too. At the same time investigations were launched into thousands of people in the military, judiciary, academia and media who were suspected of conspiring against the government with the help of police chiefs, prosecutors and judges who were already known to be under the influence of the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen.
As cases like Ergenekon and Balyoz were clearing the system of secularist elements as a result of those probes, Erdoğan went for another constitutional change with a referendum in 2010 to increase the influence of the executive power on the judiciary. Gülen asked his supporters to bring even their “dead ones” if possible to cast votes for Erdoğan to succeed in the referendum. He succeeded. But Erdoğan and Gülen began parting ways in 2012 when Gülenists in the police force and the judiciary started making attempts to challenge Erdoğan’s power through elections. The rift grew with the corruption claims which took form as formal investigations in late 2013 and with the worsening of the Syrian civil war during which Gülenists in the system, at the time including those in the military, started to prevent the government’s foreign policies throughout 2014. That was the year Erdoğan was elected as the new president and had to leave as the chair of the party. He was not happy with the autonomous attitude of Ahmet Davutoğlu, whom he handpicked to become prime minister and the party’s chair as his successor. Soon after, he replaced Davutoğlu with Binali Yıldırım. He and the whole country faced a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016, accused to have been masterminded by Gülen’s illegal network within state institutions.
The state of emergency which allowed Erdoğan and Yıldırım’s government to bypass parliament in key issues possibly made things clear in Erdoğan’s mind about abandoning the old system, which he considered as unnecessary and an obstacle slowing things down for the elected government. Again, with the help of Bahçeli’s MHP, Erdoğan narrowly managed to get the “presidential government system” be approved through a referendum in 2017, to be in effect by late 2019. But when Bahçeli took the initiative to have it earlier (because what was the point in waiting for another year?), the Turkish government had its twin early elections on June 24, when Erdoğan got elected and the AK Parti-MHP alliance (not AK Parti alone) secured the parliamentary majority.
A new page is opening in Turkey’s history: The second phase of the republic, where all the executive power is to be in the hands of one person — the president. It actually coincides with the spreading “strong man” tendencies in world politics. Will it be good or bad for Turkey? Only time will tell.