Presidential debate from opposing angles
With every new statement he makes on the presidential system, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli causes a stir. In one statement he strengthens hopes for one of the sides; in another one he diminishes it.
Consider the contradicting interpretations of Bahçeli’s statement, “If we say ‘yes’ in parliament, we will also say ‘yes’ to the nation.” Some claim that these words buried the presidential system’s hopes; others say these words amount to a pro-presidential system “guarantee.”
There are two aspects to the presidential system change pushed by the Turkish government: One is the constitutional amendment package to include the shift; the other is the process of how this is done.
As far as I can gather, there is no constitutional package including 100 articles on the horizon. The government is preparing a package essentially limited to the presidential system.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım recently met with MHP head Bahçeli. After the meeting, Yıldırım headed directly to his party’s central executive board, where members told him they believed Bahçeli was “setting a trap” for them. The prime minister rebutted these doubts. Yıldırım has the impression that the MHP is preparing to provide support in parliament for the referendum option.
The process is as important as the constitutional package and the voting. In fact, both MPs and the public have to be convinced. At the recent ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) retreat at Afyon, the presidential system was explained but the content of the package was not clarified. I heard from AK Party deputies that there was no need for them to be convinced for the presidential system, but they should be informed of the package and the process ahead of any referendum on it.
This is not the first time we have discussed the presidential system. However, this is the first time we have the opportunity to make these discussions reach a result.
I spoke to former Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek, who has occupied top positions in politics since the 1980s. “When late President Turgut Özal brought the presidential system up,” he said, “everybody discussed Özal rather than the system itself. Those who liked him supported the system; those who disliked him opposed the system. When Süleyman Demirel was president, he also brought the presidential system up for debate. But again, instead of the system, Demirel’s personality was discussed. Now, after our president has pointed to the system as the major issue, we are not discussing the system. The debate has been about Erdoğan. We have wasted 30 years on political small talk.”
Çiçek suggested that those who are debating the presidential system should be basing their discussions on precise information about the system. He also said there is trouble in the current system.
“We are talking about a fairy-like girl, but there is no fairy-girl present. The opposition says they are a handsome young man, but there is no young man in sight. Everybody should present their idea of the best system and let the nation decide who the fairy is and who the handsome young man is,” he said.
Çiçek made a call for both the government and the opposition: “The text regarding the presidential system should be published, so that those who say ‘if this system is introduced then Turkey will become a dictatorship’ will be able to base that on specific articles and clauses. Those who support a strengthened parliamentary system should also present a text so that we can point out certain aspects of the system.”