Any problems in Erdoğan’s presidency project?

Any problems in Erdoğan’s presidency project?

Up until two weeks ago, President Tayyip Erdoğan was pressing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) group in parliament to prioritize writing a new constitution, in order to shift Turkey from a parliamentary system to an executive presidential system.

But that has faded quietly. Stories have been leaked to the press from within the AK Parti group that the system change project may instead come back to the agenda in the autumn months, after parliament’s summer recess. 

Then came Erdoğan’s statement over the weekend, urging the AK Parti group to prioritize changing a parliamentary bylaw, preferably before the summer recess expected in July. This change needs only a simple majority in parliament, for which the AK Parti’s votes would be enough.

The bylaw change that Erdoğan is after aims to limit motions presented by opposition parties against the government and also limit the duration given to opposition parties during debates on legislative proposals and drafts. Erdoğan considers these to be obstacles to quick execution of the governments’ programs, ignoring complaints about parliament’s role in the system of checks and balances. The answer to the question of “why the bylaw now?” lies there: If and when the time comes for the constitutional change amendment, Erdoğan wants it to go through quickly, not delayed by motions, questions, or detailed debates put forward by the opposition.

Is a garden of roses possible without any thorns? Whether possible or not, such exercises have been tried many times already - and not only in Turkey.

Actually the government’s plan to overhaul the top courts in Turkey is not entirely independent of efforts to increase the role of the executive branch of the state in legislation. Steps to restructure the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) and the Council of State (Danıştay) have been subject to opposition criticism for aiming to increase the executive branch’s role over the judiciary. Opposition parties claim that the changes are unconstitutional, but this is denied by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ, who insists it is up to the legislative branch - parliament - to change laws and the constitution. From the AK Parti’s perspective, that leads to the importance of the parliamentary bylaw change to speed up the process.

But the remarks of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım while addressing the AK Parti group yesterday, June 14, indicated that the presidency project in Erdoğan’s mind has still yet to crystallize. Yıldırım challenged main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to discuss supporting a shift to a “U.S.-model” presidential system. Kılıçdaroğlu accepted the challenge by asking the prime minister whether he is in favor of a federal system like in the U.S., thus supporting every state having its own laws? That’s a critical questions in Turkey, where there is still a burning terrorism problem with roots in the chronic Kurdish issue.

But that is not the only matter of debate regarding the U.S.-style presidency. Erdoğan has said a number of times that the authority of the Congress and the Supreme Court restrict the powers of the president elected through popular vote in the U.S. But he is known to desire a system with far fewer checks and balances - in his words, not slowing down the speed of the executive branch in serving the people.

That is why it’s hard to understand Yıldırım’s remarks yesterday, unless considering them as a move to test the waters and give both the opposition and the public something to pass the time with. Otherwise, they could indicate the possibility that Erdoğan has started having doubts about the feasibility and sustainability of a presidential system in Turkey.