AKP’s test with Gülenists and the presidential system

AKP’s test with Gülenists and the presidential system

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) is heading toward a juncture. It may have to choose between showing its determination to fight against Gülenists at the political level and maintaining its support for President Tayyip Erdoğan’s target to shift from the current parliamentary system to an executive presidential system.

This junction might be closer than many think.

Before tackling this issue, we should first mention the record low that the Turkish Lira hit against the U.S. dollar on Oct. 13. The lira was at 2.98 to the dollar last week before the rift between Turkey and Iraq deepened. Yesterday it hit 3.11, a day after Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the government was bringing its constitutional draft for a shift to the presidential system to parliament. In the same statement, Yıldırım also welcomed the Oct. 11 remarks of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) head Devlet Bahçeli, who called on the prime minister to make such a move and bring the changes to a possible referendum vote.

Commenting on the move, one banking source told Reuters that “at a time when regional risks are running so high, and a potential military operation into (Iraq’s) Mosul is being discussed, the last thing Turkey needs is a dispute over the executive residential system.”

Prime Minister Yıldırım also claimed that those saying there are high ranking people in the AK Parti in contact with Fethullah Gülen - the U.S.-resident Islamist preacher accused by Ankara of being behind the bloody July 15 military coup attempt - are only trying to weaken the ruling party. He said his party had already cleansed its ranks of such individuals before the November 2015 election.

But that is not convincing for many people, including a number of AK Parti deputies and provincial leaders who are facing pressure from the grassroots. Some have been complaining that despite the tens and thousands of ordinary suspects detained or arrested across the country over links to the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ),” as the government calls it, no big names have been embroiled. And what about those suspected names who were removed from the AK Parti’s election lists in the two elections that took place in 2015?

It would actually be to the advantage of Erdoğan, Yıldırım and the parliament if some of those names do get included in the prosecution process. It would be a relief for the legislation work for the restructuring of the state apparatus, including a new constitution.

But the dilemma for the government is that if those names linked to Gülen - whether ministers who are rumored in the political backstage to have the infamous ByLock application on their mobile phones, or just regular MPs in parliament – are included in probes, it could erode the AK Parti’s capacity in parliament to support a vote to shift to a presidential system.

There is a growing energy accumulating within the AK Parti, as well as in the rest of society, about the Gülenists’ political connections. But the speeding up of anti-Gülenist prosecutions and the easing of tension in society, which is looking for better justice in the investigations, could come at the expense of weakening the AK Parti parliamentary group’s target of the executive presidential system.

A key juncture for this dilemma could be the AK Parti’s consultative conference on Oct. 21-23 in the Central Anatolian city of Afyonkarahisar. Both the issue of the anti-Gülenist fight and the presidential shift will be on the agenda of the conference. 

It is likely that there will be a clearer picture on which way the AK Parti will go after the Afyon conference.