AKP opens presidential system debate the day after election

AKP opens presidential system debate the day after election

The day after the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) scored its surprising election victory, it has reopened the issue of a new constitution based on a shift from the current parliamentary system to a presidential system.

During his press conference on Nov. 2, AK Parti spokesman Ömer Çelik called on the opposition parties to collectively work on a new constitution “in line with the needs of the country.” Çelik did not put much stress on the shift to a presidential system, but on Nov. 3 Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said the issue was something that had been promised by the party in its manifesto so it would absolutely be a part of its new constitution offer. On the other hand, Gürsel Tekin, the secretary general of the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), stated on Nov. 3 that his party was ready to discuss a new constitution, as it has already promised, but ruled out supporting a change to a presidential system. CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu repeated numerous times during the election campaign that his party was ready for a constitutional reform, while giving the caveat of keeping the constitution’s first four “Founding Articles.”

The CHP claims that if executive powers are further centralized, and checks and balances are further weakened - as President Tayyip Erdoğan has for years been saying is necessary - then it will badly damage the quality of Turkey’s pluralist democracy.

The AK Party won 317 seats in the 550-seat parliament with its sweeping victory in the snap election on Nov. 1. But that is neither enough to change the constitution in parliament (which needs a two-thirds majority of 367 seats), nor to take it to a referendum (which needs a three-fifths majority of 330 seats). As a result, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his party will need additional support in parliament to change the constitution. The question is: Who will give that support? 

Right after the 2011 election, a four-party commission was established in parliament to write a joint draft.

However, the commission was dispersed after agreeing on just 60 articles, as then Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan had insisted on shifting to a presidential system as part of the redraft. Forming another commission now seems impossible, as long as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) continues to insist on not being part of any initiative with the presence of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). 

The AK Parti’s cooperation with either the MHP or the HDP could be possible, but in either case that would probably be based on bargaining around the Kurdish issue. Attracting names from within the MHP or the HDP to defect to the AK Parti would contradict the principles that both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu have been promoting for years.

The CHP was an effective partner for the AK Parti in a major systemic change before. Its cooperation in 2002-2004 resulted in nine constitutional amendment packages and three major legislative moves within the framework of harmonization with the European Union. That could happen again over a new constitution, but the presidential system - at least the way that Erdoğan has been pressing for it - is a major point of conflict.

Of course, this problem is not a very easy one to solve, but once it is solved then a new constitution could be produced literally in weeks. 

Even if the CHP refuses to even talk about the issue, Erdoğan always has the option of ruling Turkey as if a presidential system has been adopted. He is already a de facto executive president, as no objection from the Davutoğlu-led AK Parti government is anticipated.