Politics within the AKP: It’s complicated

Politics within the AKP: It’s complicated

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan gathered a group of academics and think tankers around a lunch table on Feb. 19, consulting with them about the political and legal events on his agenda. The main subject of the meeting was no surprise for anyone, with Erdoğan reportedly repeating the argument in his recent public speeches about Turkey’s need for a strong presidential model - of course, not just because he has been elected president, but for the good of the country.

The next day, the president addressed the crowds in the eastern city of Elazığ. The subject was the same. He also repeated his wish to see the support of “at least 400” of the 550-seat Turkish parliament after the June 7 elections, in order to secure a system of unquestioned authority. He has explained before what kind of strong presidency he is hoping for: The separation of powers would be redefined to the advantage of the executive power; both the executive and legislative bodies would have a say on the judicial body; there would be no need for a two-chamber parliament as in most other presidential or semi-presidential systems, as they “slow down” the executive power, (a one-chamber parliament would be sufficient for all checks and balances); there would be no need for a prime minister either - perhaps a first deputy of the president would be enough to coordinate the cabinet and the president alone could exercise the executive power for practical purposes.

Slamming criticism by the opposition parties, Erdoğan says such a system did not mean a dictatorship or a sultanate, but rather a better democracy, because it depends only on the will of the people through votes.

Erdoğan keeps repeating his demands, but has so far received little support from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), which he led for 14 years.

Both government spokesman Bülent Arınç and AK Parti spokesman Beşir Atalay have said the strong presidential system has yet to be taken onto their agenda.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has not expressed a single sentence of support in public to Erdoğan on the strong presidency. In such a system, his own role would be curbed.

Abdullah Gül, the former president and Erdoğan’s long time comrade, intervened in the debate on Feb. 20, saying there was nothing wrong with the presidential system regarding democracy, but the separation of powers and checks and balances should be clearly defined “like in the U.S. system.” That is a system that Erdoğan has slammed as insufficient on a number of occasions.

Gül also added that Turkey has suffered from a “Turkish-style parliamentary system” and should not repeat the mistake with a “Turkish-style presidency,” meaning that universal standards of democracy should be applied.

Another of the former president’s remarks related to the controversial security bill currently in parliament. Just as Erdoğan was saying in Elazığ that the bill must pass one way or another, despite alarming indications regarding the Kurdish peace process, Gül advised the government to review some of its articles, especially those giving excessive powers to the police.

Erdoğan’s authority over his own party has started to experience some problems, considering his chairing of the cabinet to Davutoğlu’s obvious discomfort in January, and also considering the resignation of Hakan Fidan from the top post of in the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) on Davutoğlu’s call, against Erdoğan’s will.

Could this complexity in the upper ranks of the AK Parti be making the its deputies in parliament more nervous and aggressive against opposition MPs, in an attempt to show themselves off to both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu before the candidate lists are finalized for the June 7 elections? It will not be too long before we find an answer.