The 49 percent worry

The 49 percent worry

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan has been complaining for years about the judiciary and bureaucracy obstructing his government’s performance, but for first time ever on Dec. 17 he openly stated that he saw the main problem as being the system of separation of powers.

Complaining about the slowing down of the bureaucracy and the judiciary has been a tradition in Turkish politics for decades, especially after strict borderlines were drawn in the 1961 Constitution following the 1960 military coup. Those were generally short term coalition governments that were not able to establish full control over their own bureaucracy, let alone have the ability in the highly fragmented Parliament to change laws and enable more executive influence over the judiciary. The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) governments, on the contrary, have been in power uninterruptedly since 2002. Three consecutive terms is not something that many single-party governments (who come to power through free elections) on earth can enjoy, and it is a sufficient period of time to establish control over the bureaucracy. This is the current case in Turkey, and the situation is not much different when it comes to the judiciary. The European Union’s latest Turkey Progress Report stated that the government’s influence over the judiciary had increased with the latest judicial reforms.

So why is Erdoğan complaining and why he has raised the bar to target the separation of powers system of modern state structures, namely the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers? In a speech addressed to local businessmen in the conservative Central Anatolian city of Konya, he complained about the opposition offered by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and particularly their habit of taking the AK Parti government’s laws to the Constitutional Court. In a recent ruling, the Court (the majority of which’s members were appointed during Erdoğan’s term) turned down a presidential election law that would have enabled President Abdullah Gül to be a candidate once again in 2014, against what Erdoğan had wished to see. (CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, by the way, declared that if there was a competition between Erdoğan and Gül, his party might vote for Gül.) “The legislative, the executive and the judiciary should first pursue the people’s interest,” Erdoğan said in Konya, “then it should consider the state’s interest.”

When asked recently about what kind of presidential system he wanted to bring to Turkey, Erdoğan had criticised the system of checks and balances in the United States, saying that because of this system the U.S. president was not able to deliver his promises easily, such as the selling of attack helicopters to Turkey. Erdoğan clearly doesn’t want to see a strong system of checks and balances and a clear separation of powers in Turkey under his presidency, when that day comes.

But will that happen? That is the question. According to the atmosphere in the political backstage of Ankara, Erdoğan might well worry that the AK Parti will get less than 50 percent of the votes (the percentage that he got in the last general elections of June 2011) in the local elections of March 2014. This local vote will take place five months earlier than the presidential one, in which a candidate will need 50 percent plus one vote to be elected in the second round. The worry is that if the AK Parti gets 49 percent or less of the votes in the local election it may affect the trend in the presidential one.

This worry leaves one option open for Erdoğan: find a way to convince Gül not to run for the presidency once again.