The ‘right to elect’ in Turkey
Here is a question that has not been raised during the constitutional debates: What kind of arrangement does the government’s proposed new system foresee concerning citizens’ right to elect.
Do you think this question is absurd?
Indeed, since 1950 Turkey has been holding regular elections and we have enjoyed the right to vote freely.
But is the right to vote limited to this?
Generally in presidential systems, the people choose the president and the vice-president, as is the case in the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. In many Asian countries only the “president” is elected, and the significance of democratic concepts also decreases commensurately.
According to Turkey’s proposed constitutional amendments, we will only elect the “president.” The president will appoint their deputies. At times when the president is absent, the vice-president - who will use all the powers of the president by proxy - will be an “appointed” rather than an “elected” person.
In fact, in the parliamentary system the person who stands in for the president is the “elected” speaker of parliament.
So why is the right to elect the vice-president not being proposed in the constitutional amendments package?
A very important matter concerning the right to vote is that in our draft constitution, the presidential and parliamentary elections are proposed to be held on the same day every five years.
But in the presidential systems of advanced democracies, presidential and parliamentary elections are held at different times, as in Chile and South Korea. In almost all democratic presidential systems, there are by-elections held for one third of the legislative organ every two years. This is done with the thought that presidents would not be too influential in these elections and thus would not dominate parliament, and also that changing trends in society do not have to wait for five years to be reflected on parliament. The aim is to strengthen the democratic principle of checks and balances.
In our proposed system, however, our people will not be able to use their right to elect concerning the legislature and the executive for five years. What is expected of elections? Legitimacy and the feeling of social participation.
Five years is too long. It could cause added tensions. In fact, Argentina, Brazil and Chile all reduced their six-year presidential terms to four years, not five years.
But if the system is approved in a likely referendum, then the five-year term will be here to stay. If that is the case, then election and political party laws should be written in the most democratic way.
In the presidential system, the president provides stability. Parliament, on the other hand, should be as pluralist as possible. For example, the excessive 10 percent threshold for a party’s entrance to parliament should be removed.
The third and biggest disadvantage restricting our right to choose is that candidates are appointed by their party leader. No primary elections are held. This is the main reason why, in Turkey, deputies feel unable to risk their political future and rebel against their leader.
Now, a new system is being introduced without a proper debate.
In a presidential system there should be a broader, more participatory parliament, with primary elections and with either a very low or a non-existent election threshold.
Will that happen in the proposed system in Turkey? Will the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) - which has never held a primary election before, even though it is written in its party statute – push it through? Will Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli - who expels any deputy who opens their mouth on such critical matters as the change of system – push it through? Unlikely.
What we need to do instead is work for advancement of a democratic culture in matters such as the broad right to elect as a society, the separation of powers, checks and balances, and an independent and impartial justice system.