Presidential system as the majority’s aspiration of power in Turkey

Presidential system as the majority’s aspiration of power in Turkey

Turkey’s transition to some kind of a presidential system has been debated as the establishment of full-scale one-man rule. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and other opposition circles in general have made calls to warn the electorate that they should think twice before making a decision. It is claimed that those who approve the new system, which would give total power to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, may recognize him as a “perfect leader” for the time being, but they should also consider the possibility of the transition of power to someone else that they may not like so much in the future. 

Such arguments illustrated a particular weakness in the political evaluations made by the secular opposition in Turkey. It is for the same reason that they fail to comprehend the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) full support for the presidential system.

In fact, the new presidential system project is not designed only to enshrine Erdoğan’s one-man rule. It is also a method to ensure “majoritarian rule.” The nationalist, Islamist and conservative alliance knows that it will never seriously lose power because the majority in Turkey is religious, conservative and nationalist. 

The new system not only guarantees the consolidation of Erdoğan’s power, but will also ensure that the power of the majority is maintained at all times with no hindrance from opposition by “trouble-makers” like secularists, leftists, Alevis and Kurds. The conservative electorate feels more than happy with the invention of a system that will never allow other segments of society to have a say in decision-making. 

In the eyes of Islamists/conservatives/nationalists, those who do not share their convictions and world views are not the true descendants of “the nation.” On the contrary, they constitute a “coalition of evil” that has always worked and continues to work against “the national interest.” Islamists label Turkey’s secular modern history as a kind of “internal colonialism” imposed on the country by colonialist powers in collaboration with Westernized, secular republicans. In this view, Turkey’s republican past and the two-century Westernization process is nothing more than an expression of a foreign plot and treason. That is why they see the transition to a presidential system as a matter of life and death for the nation, rather than a simple and ordinary political re-settlement. 

The opposition argument that the new system has no mechanism of checks and balances, and that it has no space for judicial independence, transparency or accountability, is music to the ears of the majority. These political concepts concerns are not valuable in the view of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and also in the mind of the conservative/nationalist majority. On the contrary, they see the absence of checks and balances as leverage for “efficient rule,” and view the lack of judicial independence as avoidance of unnecessary meddling and obfuscation; they think of the lack of accountability as a guarantee of strong leadership and believe that a lack of transparency amounts to protecting the security of the state.

The real problem is that one-man rule, which is based on a majoritarian understanding of politics and society, is seen as a perfect model by many in Turkey, regardless of the fact that such a system only promises more authoritarian rule and less freedom - especially for those who are not members of the majority. This is not only the choice of the majority, it is the aspiration of dominant power by the majority. 

In this view of majoritarian/authoritarian understandings of politics and society, it is only the majority that counts. In this view, others do not deserve rights, freedoms and respect, and can only live in peace as long as they comply with their de facto second class status. This is the life ahead of us, “the others,” once the new system is totally established after the referendum for the constitutional change.