Is Turkey adopting a presidential system?

Is Turkey adopting a presidential system?

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said yesterday that Turkey could start debating a presidential or a semi-presidential system instead of the current parliamentary one as the work in Parliament to write a brand new constitution for the country speeds up.

It is important for two main reasons. First, the issue has been raised by a number of political actors so far, including some within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti). But Erdoğan had refrained from commenting on that so far; this is in relation with the second reason. It is not a secret that Erdoğan wants to go up to Çankaya Hill in Ankara where the presidential palace is after the termination of the term of President Abdullah Gül in 2014.

Well, that is another matter, but if the Constitutional Court rules in line with an objection by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Gül’s term might well terminate at the end of August this year. A popular vote is needed to elect a new president and according to current system, it would only be possible to elect a president with the current powers; not those of Barack Obama in the U.S. or those in the semi-presidential system in France, which François Hollande is going to enjoy after the May 6 elections.

A presidential system for Turkey’s rather complicated administrative structure has always been on the political agenda since the establishment of the republic in 1923 following the fall of the empire. But it was always a matter of concern that under a political system not mature enough, presidential powers could be abused to return to a sultanate-like system or turn into a dictatorship. When the military took power in 1980, Gen. Kenan Evren thought that he at last found the right formula. Assuming that he and whomever he pointed would be in power for a long time, he wanted some additional powers for the rather symbolic position of the Turkish president (in Article 104) and the executive power to be shared between the president and the Cabinet (in Article 8) in the Constitution approved through a referendum under military rule in 1982.

The result has been a deviation from a regular parliamentary system; as pointed out by Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ yesterday.

Erdoğan wishes that there will be no obstacle from the Constitutional Court and that the presidential election will be held in 2014, which would secure sufficient time to have a new constitution and perhaps totally new elections and political party laws as well. If everything goes as he wishes, and he becomes the first president of Turkey with U.S. or French-style presidential powers, it could start another debate on the quality of separation of powers in Turkey; another debate regarding Turkey’s political role in its region too. So it is important to see how the parliamentary opposition will respond to Erdoğan’s joining the presidential debate in the midst of the constitutional drafting proceedings, where a consensus between the parties in Parliament is desired.

That will be a most intresting political process to observe.