De facto presidential system in Turkey in effect despite PM

De facto presidential system in Turkey in effect despite PM

Four newspapers had almost identical headlines yesterday in Turkey: The Jan. 19 cabinet meeting presided over by President Tayyip Erdoğan was the “First step toward a presidential system” in Turkey.

In fact, it isn't fair to describe those four papers - namely Sabah, Yeni Şafak, Star and Akşam - as “pro-government” any longer, because they have all started to make a distinction between Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s line and that of Erdoğan. This distinction is in favor of the latter, despite all titles leaning toward the same ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

The Jan. 19 cabinet meeting was an unusually long one, lasting over eight-and-a-half hours. Before it started, the ministers had to wait silently in the meeting hall of the Presidential Palace for 80 minutes, as Erdoğan wanted to speak to Davutoğlu one-on-one.

Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç told reporters after the meeting that the regime had not changed just because Erdoğan had chaired the cabinet, saying it was “still a sort of parliamentary system."

But being good with words, Davutoğlu was not as long-faced as he appeared in the photos taken after his 80-minute meeting with Erdoğan when he was in London the next morning. With a cheerful smile, he said that Jan. 19 was simply a “smooth transition” between the president and the prime minister, as well as a successful “test” showing that there was an “efficient government and a political vision” in Turkey.

This would all be fine, if the constitution described a job distribution between the president and the prime minister. But it does not.

What is actually happening is a de facto transition from Turkey’s parliamentary system to a strong presidential, or semi-presidential system under Erdoğan. It is de facto because it does not need a constitutional change as long as the president finds a 100 percent harmonious prime minister and government that will do exactly what he says, when he says it, and the way he says it. It seems as if Davutoğlu is happy with this.

Speaking of tests, Davutoğlu has already had a few. For example, it was he who reportedly told the four ex-ministers accused of corruption to volunteer to go to the Constitutional Court to clear their names. But when this raised Erdoğan’s eyebrows, the AK Parti deputies in Parliament’s Investigation Commission raised their hands to clear the accused ex-ministers of the need to be tried. Yesterday, again with AK Parti votes in Parliament's General Assembly, all four ex-ministers were cleared of all charges - not through an independent judicial procedure but by political voting.

The next test is likely to be about two “reform” announcements about the economy by Davutoğlu. One is about the transparency of public servants' and political party chiefs' accounts, and the other is a new regulation to take earnings from real estate assets under fiscal control. But Erdoğan thought it was not the time to bring new regulations and restrictions, as the country is heading to parliamentary elections on June 7. He told this to executives of the AK Parti, who he invited to his new Presidential Palace in the absence of Davutoğlu.

Now, the question is being asked in Ankara’s political backstage whether Davutoğlu will be able to bring those two “reforms” to parliament and, if he does so, whether he will be able to get them passed. Whether the AK Parti deputies will listen to Erdoğan or Davutoğlu is not even being questioned.

Davutoğlu describes it as merely a “smooth transition” between the prime minister and the president, but it is clear that a strong presidential system started to replace the parliamentary system on Jan. 19, 2015.