Cohabitation alla Turca

Cohabitation alla Turca

Turkey is about to set sail in uncharted waters. Starting from Aug. 29, we are going to have a directly elected president. That is the date for the transfer of office, right after the second round of elections on Aug. 24. We will have to learn how to deal with a constitutionally strong prime minister and a directly elected president. This gets complicated considering the president will be elected, yet constitutionally weak. Turkey still has a parliamentary system, so cohabitation alla Turca is about to start.

I remember talking to a participant of a citizens’ meeting in Konya two years ago. His assigned discussion group was getting to the issue of electing presidents via direct popular vote. I asked him whether he liked the idea. He said, “Yes, why not?” His reasoning was simple: “It is good for the politicians to bring the ballot box to us once more.” Why? Turkey does not have any participatory mechanisms allowing voters to have a say on anything. Once people get elected, they have little incentive to visit their districts during their terms. As the system is very much dependent on the decision of party leaders, MP candidates need to convince their bosses, not the voters in their districts. That kills local politics. Hence, elections are the only periods for citizens to have a say. That is why there is grassroots support for more elections, including a direct presidential election.

At the same time, we all know that popular votes in presidential elections invite constitutional crises. Turkey’s Constitution creates a very powerful executive in the Prime Ministry. The prime minister is then further strengthened by the fact that he is also the head of a political party. As head of the political party, they are also the head of the parliamentary group of the party, and – bear with me here – as head of the political party, he is the one who prepares the MP candidates list for the elections. So a competent prime minister effectively controls Parliament. This is our Constitution. The president does not have strong executive powers. He only makes appointments to the high courts and the higher education board.

Now let us consider the case at hand. After Aug. 29, we are going to have a president elected by a two-round popular vote; a 50+ percent president, in other words. We are expecting this 50+ president with no budget and no effective control over the parliamentary group to get on with a 40+ prime minister with strong executive powers and strong control over the parliamentary group of his party.

There is no way that will happen. If not today, we will start having problems tomorrow. We all now need to define cohabitation alla Turca.

Consider this scenario: General elections will come around in June 2015. The new prime minister (there will be one, since Erdoğan will have forfeited his job) is going to be the one to sign and send the MP candidates list to the Higher Election Council in Ankara. Who is the boss? This whole process is like a constitutional crisis in the making, if you ask me. That is why I am talking about uncharted waters. We have elected 11 presidents before, but this time it is different.

One month from now, who will be the prime minister and the minister responsible for the economy? We do not know yet. What we have here is policy uncertainty coupled with political uncertainty.

But it will all be okay, insha’Allah!