Turkey’s future: Strong president or balanced democracy?

Turkey’s future: Strong president or balanced democracy?

Following Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, another candidate to become Turkey’s next president, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, has also announced that he aims to win the upcoming election in its first round on Aug. 10.

İhsanoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News’ Barçın Yinanç that he aimed to attract 55 percent of the vote.

Erdoğan, meanwhile, in his Samsun speech on June 5, recalled the 58 percent received in the constitutional amendment referendum of 2010, perhaps as something more than just wishful thinking.

Indeed, has actually has a point in making the subliminal comparison between the 2010 referendum and the coming presidential elections. This is because he really wants to change the administrative regime of the Turkish Republic from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

He has never hidden that what he understands from a presidential or a semi-presidential regime is a system with:

1-    More concentration of executive power in the hands of the one strong political figure, elected by popular vote.

2-    Less separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

3-    Less checks and balances over the executive branch by the other two.

The Turkish Constitution states that the president should cut all links with any party after being elected. Erdoğan challenges that, too. In Samsun, he said members of his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) should not worry that their party may start disintegrating when he ascends to the top chair, assuring them that they would “continue to be together.”

Anyway, Erdoğan promises that if he gets elected in the first round - and he is pretty sure about that - he will try to change the Turkish system into a strong presidential one.

Meanwhile, contrary to Erdoğan’s answers about questions on the Kurdish or Alevi issues, İhsanoğlu says solutions should be found in Parliament through debate between political parties.

Just the opposite of Erdoğan, who is proud to have been in politics since the age of 18, İhsanoğlu is a non-partisan academic, an international personality. He served as the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) from 2005-2013. As an observant Muslim with a secular lifestyle, he promises not to intervene in government affairs, but to make checks and balances work better.

The fact that five opposition parties - led by the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)  and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - support İhsanoğlu is enough to underline that they want to keep the parliamentary system and make it more balanced on behalf of the legislature and the judiciary.

That is why Erdoğan mocks the CHP and the MHP for trying to find a “gatekeeper for the status quo” by supporting İhsanoğlu. Erdoğan definitely wants a change in the system, keeping in mind that not all changes would necessarily be in the positive direction.

The third presidential candidate is Selahattin Demirtaş of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP). Holding a critical position in the elections and aiming for 10 percent of the votes in the first round, with the support of the fragmented smaller Turkish socialist parties, a balanced and stronger Parliament is to the advantage of the HDP in the long run. However, a stronger president having all the say could work better for the Kurdish peace deal in the short run, if of course that strongman agrees to the demands of the Kurds after getting elected.

Perhaps that is the reason why Demirtaş has not yet made his position clear on this critical matter regarding the future of Turkey: Whether it should be ruled by a stronger president or whether it should be ruled through a more balanced democracy.