Current lack of public support for presidential system inspires ‘conference call’

Current lack of public support for presidential system inspires ‘conference call’

Deniz Zeyrek - ANKARA
Current lack of public support for presidential system inspires ‘conference call’

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A lack of sufficient support for a transition to a presidential system has prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to use “conference calls” as a way of increasing this support.

Erdoğan, in a quest to find new ways to create a new constitution, has proposed “conference calls” with as many people as possible to provide a strong ground for “societal agreement.”

Speaking at a press conference after his arrival in Istanbul from an official visit to Saudi Arabia late Dec. 31, 2015, Erdoğan was asked to elaborate on earlier remarks concerning “conference calls.” Such calls could be arranged in a way that could be held with citizens, making it into a “kind of public survey,” he said.

In the conference calls, “the citizen’s view of a particular article of the constitution will be asked,” Erdoğan said. According to Erdoğan, the citizens chosen for the conference call would number more than 500,000, thus creating “very significant ground for the composition of a constitution on which societal agreement can be ensured.”

Many polls conducted by various survey companies, including those which are close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which Erdoğan helped found, have shown that support for a presidential system has not yet reached 50 percent. The results have also been shared with Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Erdoğan and his inner circle have posited that the lack of popular support stems from a dearth of sufficient and detailed information about the presidential system, leading the leaders to search for a way to “accurately inform the public.”

Although the organization of conference calls has not yet been planned in regards to logistics, civil society organizations are expected to lead the conference calls with public meetings engaging audiences in all 81 provinces in a way to encourage active participation in the debates on the presidential system.

‘Not without parliament’

Lawyers with expertise on constitutional law have argued that the conference calls could help in determining significant concerns that prevent people from lending support to the presidential system. Within this framework and with an interactive approach, a language which would eliminate those concerns could be developed, while slogans presenting answers to question marks in people’s minds could be created, the same legists said. 

“Nonetheless, even if it is confirmed at the end of such a process that people have been convinced and they have been lending open support to the presidential system, amending the constitution would only be possible in parliament. Even taking an amendment to a referendum requires … at least 330 votes. If the opposition parties do not change their stance or if the AK Parti cannot obtain required support, this doesn’t seem very likely,” said a legist who wished to remain anonymous.

In Nov. 1, 2015, snap elections, the AKP secured 317 seats in the 550-member parliament. For a constitutional change in parliament, the AKP needed to win 367 seats, though 330 seats would be enough to take the issue to a referendum.

Is an early election likely?

In the event of a failure to secure support from opposition parties for a constitutional change, holding an early election and returning to parliament as a political party which has more than 330 seats seems as the only way for the AKP to achieve its aims.

Nonetheless, such a prospect also presents a major political risk. According to a scenario on the Ankara political backstage, Erdoğan might be willing to take such a risk. However, there are also concerns that the AKP might not find sufficient support from its grassroots. 

TOBB and TEPAV experience

A few years ago, an initiative similar to the conference calls cited by Erdoğan was conducted by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and carried out under the secretariat of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV).

In May 2012, the results obtained during the Constitution Citizens’ Assembly series, carried out in Ankara, Konya, Edirne, Diyarbakir, İzmir, Ankara (with women only), Antalya, Samsun, Bursa, Trabzon, Gaziantep, Erzurum and Istanbul with a total participation of 6,500 people were presented to then-Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who later submitted them to the parliament’s now-dissolved Constitution Conciliation Committee.