The year Turkey’s political system shifted
Turkey’s political system radically shifted in 2017 through a referendum held in April. The decision to narrowly approve the change from a parliamentary system to a presidential system was the most important political turn of the year in the country.
In fact, the previous system was not strictly a parliamentary one as it divided executive power between the president and the prime minister, (so it may be better to call it a pseudo-parliamentary system). The new system will also not strictly be a presidential one, as it enables the president – who will have all executive power - to chair his party as well, thus giving him even more influence over legislation and in the appointment of high judges and prosecutors. That is why it is called an “executive presidential system,” or a pseudo-presidential system.
Either way, the system shift was something that Erdoğan has been targeting for a decade. His justification was so he could be able to take decisions and implement them more quickly in order “to serve people better,” not wasting time with the formalities and balances provided by parliament and the checks provided by the judiciary.
The referendum took place under the state of emergency, which was unusual even by the flexible standards of Turkish democracy. Emergency rule was declared four days after the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt and has continued ever since.
Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) based their “Yes” campaign on the argument that it was a continuation of the defense of democracy, despite the fact that the coup attempt was opposed and defeated by people of all political views. Erdoğan ultimately won the referendum narrowly, with 51 percent voting in favor of the changes, nudged over the line by support from Devlet Bahçeli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). However, the “Yes” campaign failed to win a majority in almost all Turkey’s big cities.
Shortly after the referendum Erdoğan was re-elected chairman of the AK Parti on May 21, after which he started restructuring the system within his party. In subsequent months a number of influential mayors from the AK Parti - including the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara - were forced to resign.
The shift in Turkey’s political system is now planned to be completed by November 2019, when both presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held together. The office of the Prime Ministry will be abolished, leaving the president as the sole authority.
However, another significant political event of 2017 was the “Justice March” led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the head of the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), between June 15 and July 9. Kılıçdaroğlu started his 450-km march from Ankara to Istanbul a day after CHP deputy Enis Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years in jail on charges of espionage and acting on behalf of an illegal organization, after he allegedly gave footage to a newspaper about a Turkish intelligence operation regarding the Syrian civil war.
Erdoğan was upset by the march, but surveys commissioned by the AK Parti continue to show that almost 75 percent of citizens say the “lack of justice” is a significant problem in Turkey.