The AK Party’s election campaign weapon has emerged

The AK Party’s election campaign weapon has emerged

Turkish politics is preparing for another hot summer. In his party’s parliamentary group meeting this week, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım explained that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will soon propose a constitutional amendment to parliament to change to a presidential system, or to a system with a president legally affiliated with a political party. If this amendment does not receive the necessary 330 votes in parliament for it to be taken to a referendum, the country will go to another general election. 

Let’s remember the recent constitutional amendment vote in parliament on political immunities. In the first round of this vote, 367 affirmative votes were not reached, thus obligating a referendum. On the morning of the second round of voting, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a speech supporting the lifting of the immunities with a referendum, the main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) recognized that the AK Party was determined on this issue. So the CHP supported the amendment, and CHP deputies’ votes enabled the amendment to pass the threshold of 367 votes – meaning it would not have to go to a referendum.

There were two particular reasons for the CHP’s fear of a referendum on lifting immunities. The first reason was that if it had rejected the motion in parliament, it would not have been able to defend this rejection very loudly in a campaign. But it would still remain a “rejecting party” in the eyes of the public. A probable high rate of affirmative votes in the referendum would have contributed to the consolidation of AK Party votes, as happened in the 2010 referendum. 

It is apparent that the AK Party will introduce its constitutional change initiative before July 10, the announced date of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) convention, at which embattled MHP head Devlet Bahçeli faces a leadership challenge.

So how will fear of an early general election affect the MHP convention? Will MHP deputies act with the fear of not being elected again in an early election, or will they just give up everything? 

In my opinion, the probability of an election this fall has risen pretty high. Either the election will be for a referendum to change the system to formally affiliate the president with a political party, or it will be for a general election. 

We don’t know exactly which articles of the constitution the AK Party will aim to change. According to legal experts in the AK Party and at the presidency, at least Articles 101 and 103 will change. The clause about the president having to sever his relations with his party will be removed, as well as the references to impartiality. 

In my opinion, a change is also needed in Article 104. In this article, the president should be formally given the title of head of state, but also the head of the executive body. 

But this would not be enough. A change could also be made to Article 110, relating to the prime minister’s taking of office and the vote of confidence. The requirement for a vote of confidence for the prime minister would be lifted for a prime minister appointed by the president. But parliament could, if it wished, challenge the government with a vote of no confidence. Similarly, a change could also be introduced by the AK Party to Article 112, on the functions and political responsibilities of the prime minister. 

It seems that a president affiliated with a political party system could resemble the French semi-presidential system. 

The ongoing debate over the political system, which has not been fully conducted in Turkey, should not be squeezed into polarization and a simple “yes/no” dilemma. 

Those who reject presidential or semi-presidential systems should be able to declare what they propose instead. We don’t know yet what the CHP says on correcting the problematic aspects of the current parliamentary system. It looks like the early birds have again caught the worm, while the CHP has nothing to say but “no,” polarizing the matter and declaring “over my dead body.”