If not today, when are we going to debate this?

If not today, when are we going to debate this?

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) proposal on the presidential system has finally been submitted to Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Commission, and its full text is now available.

Before this, debates over the presidential system were conducted based on statements and superficially worded announcements. Now, we have a text in our hands. In other words, we can now base our discussions on this text.

The AK Party has a serious majority in Parliament. It received 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. If this party is proposing a constitutional amendment, it has to be taken seriously and debated.

However, unfortunately, even though the text has been revealed, the topic was not discussed - except for a few weak columns. Constitutional experts, political scientists and politicians did not debate it extensively. (Those interested can find the full text of the AK Party’s proposal on my Internet blog – http://ismetberkan.blogspot.com.)

My readers know that I believe in the strict implementation of separation of powers in order for democracy to become a reality, and that the immense power held by execution should absolutely be controlled by legislation and the judiciary. Because the United States of America is a place where this example is applied best, I defend the American-type presidential system.

I defend it, but my prerequisite should not be forgotten: The thing that makes a democracy a democracy is the ability to balance the power of the government.

When this control and balance do not exist, then dictatorship is inevitable. This is exactly the issue Turkey is experiencing today. There is an uncontrollable governing power that cannot be balanced, and a considerable section of society perceives itself as being ruled by a heavily authoritarian administration, if not a dictatorship.

Well, does the AK Party proposal correct this situation? Is it introducing the separation of powers and does it make the governing power more controllable and balanceable?

Unfortunately, no.

The first reason for this is that the text in question is almost like a patchwork, designed to fit into those relevant parts of the current constitution to be revoked and replace them. Unless the entire constitution is written with the mentality of the presidential system and a strict separation of powers, then this patch remains only a patch.

The second reason is less philosophical: The proposal states that the president and the Parliament’s terms are five years and suggests that presidential elections and the parliamentary elections be conducted on the same day.

There is a huge mistake here, and I have two suggestions to correct this mistake:

1. I don’t have an objection to presidential terms being five – or, better still, four – years. But in a pluralist democracy, it would be wrong to expect a Parliament to maintain the same legitimacy for five years. One third of the Parliament, as in the U.S. example, should be renewed every two years so that its legitimacy is always refreshed. I am not able to understand avoiding or circumventing elections by decreasing the number of them.
2. Maybe, the first presidential elections and parliamentary elections can be conducted simultaneously, but with the acceptance of the practice in the first item then it would be difficult for two elections to then coincide after this. However, the one third renewal condition can be possible only if the parliamentarians to be renewed represent a certain constituency. For this reason, it would be better if we elect our deputies in single member constituencies and one by one.

Substitute deputy?
One other appearance of the patchwork image of the AK Party proposal is the “substitute deputy” system which is, somewhat shyly, trying to be introduced.

Let’s say, for example, the AK Party wins 20 deputies from Istanbul’s first constituency, but that other parties also win deputies in the same constituency.

Let’s say that two or three of the 20 AK Party deputies have, for this or that reason, abandoned their deputy positions, and the seats are now empty. Who is their “substitute” in this case?

In the proposal the AK Party has submitted to Parliament, these substitutes are the candidates that were listed in the 21st, 22nd and 23rd positions in the AK Party list.

However, somebody else may say, “Let’s take a look at the number of votes. An unelected eighth-placed candidate in the Republican People’s Party (CHP) list may have gained more votes than the candidate from the AK Party from the 21st place in their list.”

I think this substitute deputy passion should be abandoned. It will only start absurd, unnecessary debates, and will result in a system with no avail.

İsmet Berkan is a columnist for daily Hürriyet in which this piece was published Nov. 30. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

İSMET BERKAN - iberkan@hurriyet.com.tr