A surprise in the presidential system package?

A surprise in the presidential system package?

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) wants a unitary presidential system. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has emphasized this numerous times. Parliamentary Constitution Committee head Mustafa Şentop said it one more time the other day. The proposal will be for the unitary, not a federal, presidential system. 

However, it may also be possible to prevent extreme centralization with a unitary structure. The AK Party worked on this in the past, with Erdoğan previously appointing former MP Ömer Dinçer as a Prime Ministry undersecretary mostly for this reason. 

It looks like that file could be brought down from the shelf and a complete restructuring in the state could now be possible. 

Public administration reform was once one of the biggest dreams of the AK Party. Accordingly, the central state would be downsized and local governments would be strengthened. Powers accumulated in Ankara were to be shared with local governments. However, because of the paranoia over separatism, this was never possible and the AK Party slammed on the brakes. 

The reform was never even properly debated, and ended up stillborn. Erdoğan’s determination on maintaining the unitary state structure may now have brought opponents of the federal system on board. His constant repetition of the slogan “One state, One nation, One country, One flag” may have ended fears that a federal system is in prospect. 

Now we have an opportunity. Since the presidential system proposal will be submitted to parliament, it should assure the unitary presidential system but also contain a solution against the extreme centralization of powers and mandates.  

It should downsize the bureaucracy, narrow down the bloated state. The state should be renewed from top to bottom. If such a surprise is included in the AK Party’s presidential package, wouldn’t Turkey’s unitary structure be reinforced and strengthened? Wouldn’t the appeal of the presidential system multiply? 

Bahçeli’s ‘yes and no’ 

There were claims that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) will say “yes” to the AK Party’s constitutional changes in parliament but “no” when the proposal is taken to a referendum. It was said that the MHP would support the process in parliament but would campaign against the presidential system in the referendum. 

I have written that this “yes and no” approach would carry a heavy price that the MHP would not ultimately risk. There is huge inconsistency in saying “yes” in parliament but “no” on the street. It would finish the MHP in the eyes of the voter.

I have written that it would be a better and lower cost argument for the MHP to say “Yes, I was in favor of the parliamentary system but I have changed my mind. Under the current circumstances, I am supporting the presidential system.” 

In the end, that is what has happened. 

MHP head Devlet Bahçeli ended the debate in his parliamentary group speech on Oct. 25. He said the MHP would not say “yes” in parliament but “no” in the referendum. Whatever it says in one, it will also say in the other. 

So one uncertainty has been removed, but there is a bigger uncertainty remaining. What will Bahçeli say, yes or no? I think he has a definite answer in his mind but he is killing time.