Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan made it crystal clear in his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Parti) congress in Ankara
on Sept. 30 that he wanted to secure power in the country until at least 2023, even if it required constitutional changes.
“As long as my soul remains in my body we will be together - perhaps in different offices, under different titles,” Erdoğan addressed an enthusiastic crowd and impressive list of visitors from around the world - from Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi and Iraq’s Kurdish Regional Government leader Massoud Barzani to former German
Chancellor Gerhard Schoeder.
Erdoğan’s words about the body and the soul and serving under different titles were partly in reference to his promise not to stay as party chairman after three consecutive terms, and partly in reference to the series of elections ahead of Turkey, particularly the presidential elections in 2014. The year 2023 also has symbolic value in Turkish politics, as it is the 100th year of the establishment of the Turkish Republic.
In a booklet summarizing the party’s “2023 vision” there are two interesting articles. The first one states: “the issues of the presidential, semi-presidential and president-with-party membership systems should be debated.” The other states: “The country should have a new constitution, whatever the circumstances.” Erdoğan also thinks that Turkey should have a new electoral system aimed at stability and fairer representation.
It is possible to interpret those words as meaning that he wants to be the Turkish president in 2014, whatever the cost. But this would fail short of understanding Erdoğan’s real aim. He wants to have the power to rule Turkey until at least 2023, “with the help of God,” and he makes it clear that he does not want to share executive power with anybody else. Despite the fact that Article 104 of the current Turkish constitution - voted for in 1982 under military rule following the 1980 military coup - grants extraordinary powers to the president (which no president has really ever attempted to use, in order to avoid an in-house dispute), Article 8 of the constitution divides the power between the president and the Cabinet. Erdoğan said there was “no strife” within the party, adding that “neither should there be” - an expression that was not in the delivered text. This indicates future concerns to us.
It would be unfair to comment at this stage as to whether those expressions referred to the possible candidacy of President Abdullah Gül for a second term in 2014. However, Erdoğan certainly implied that he had the power to try to transform the Turkish political system into a “prime ministerial” one in which the president would only have symbolic office and duties, which would definitely require a new constitution.
Erdoğan made his first move for a new political design in Turkey at the AK Parti congress on Sunday. But it was not an untarnished one, as six national newspapers - mostly opposed to AK Parti policies - were barred from entering the congress hall to cover the big story there.