Erdoğan starts pushing for system change in Turkey

Erdoğan starts pushing for system change in Turkey

In line with the proverb “Strike while the iron is hot,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan lost no time bringing forward the issue of a radical shift in Turkey from the current parliamentary system to a presidential one through a constitutional change, following the election victory of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti).

Actually, the party officials opened the debate right after the election on Nov. 1. First, AK Parti spokesman Ömer Çelik, then Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said the next step would be a new constitution, recalling that a shift to the presidential system was one of the highlighted promises in their election manifesto.

Yesterday, Nov. 4, Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın also said during a press conference that an evaluation now had to be made about the most suitable administration model for Turkey, referring to the presidential system. “Such an important issue” could well be taken to a referendum in order to get the consent of the people, Kaıln added.

 Only two hours later, Erdoğan himself addressed a group of local headmen and women from across the country, saying work for a new constitution would immediately start and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu would soon start talking to other party leaders about the issue. 

The opposition parties are still suffering post-election trauma, which gives Erdoğan and Davutoğlu another reason to strike the iron while it is still hot.

Research by IPSOS for CNN Türk, carried out after the Nov. 1 election and published on Nov. 4, shows that the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which lost a quarter of its support in five months, is in complete disarray. Some 80 percent of the remaining MHP voters think their leader, Devlet Bahçeli, should now step down. The research also shows declining support for the MHP even since the election, possibly pushing it below the 10 percent parliamentary threshold.

According to the IPSOS/CNN Türk research, 56 percent of Republican People’s Party (CHP) voters think CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu should step down. Although there was no loss in the CHP’s vote rate, the election was widely seen as a failure by its leader. Already two candidates have emerged for the chairmanship of the party for the next CHP congress, to be held at some point between December 2015 and February 2016.

The Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has more serious problems than changing their leadership. It managed to stay above the 10 percent threshold by a 0.8 percent margin, thus remaining in parliament with the help of the votes of Turkish leftists and liberals. However, the resumed attacks of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its self-declared “autonomous regions” policy since the June 7 election cost the HDP dear, with almost a million Kurdish votes drifting away from the HDP toward the AK Parti. In the HDP’s heartland in eastern and southeastern Anatolia, it lost 10 seats to the AK Parti and 2 to the CHP.

The HDP’s success in attracting some Turkish leftist and liberal votes in the June 7 election, which they could not manage to protect on Nov. 1, was partly down to its clear stance against Erdoğan’s call for a shift to a presidential system.

The MHP is also against that shift, especially if it means an executive presidency under Erdoğan. But given the opposition’s current disarray, the possibility is there for the AK Parti to close the gap with the MHP group in parliament. After all, the 317-seat AK Parti group in the 550-seat parliament would only need 13 more deputies to reach the 330 votes necessary to take a constitutional change to a referendum.

However, the AK Parti would like to have an even broader base, for example with the CHP. The CHP is in favor of a new constitution, though not a shift to the presidential system with concentrated executive powers and weakened checks and balances. But it knows that the AK Parti is now in a stronger position thanks to the Nov. 1 results, while also reserving the other options mentioned above. So will the AK Parti wait for the CHP congress to see the new party leadership and then make its move, considering that there will be budget talks in between anyway, which could give more time for the AK Parti to prepare for a referendum? 

Time will tell. The IPSOS/CNN Türk research shows that despite the fact that 63 percent of the people think the parties should talk for a new constitution, 57 percent are still against a shift to the presidential system as Erdoğan describes it.

Waiting for the CHP congress for a broader consent is just a question for the moment, but there is no doubt that Erdoğan will keep pressing for the system change in Turkey into the first half of 2016.

If that turns out to be the case, Turkish voters are likely to go to the ballot boxes once again soon.