And Erdoğan winks at the Çankaya Mansion
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had lunch at the famous Adile Sultan Palace at Istanbul’s Kandilli district last Sunday, April 6, with top executives in the government, his party, bosses and executives of newspapers and TV channels close to him.
Very little was leaked outside from this lunch. The only column written about Erdoğan’s statements from that lunch was in daily Sabah Editor-in-Chief Erdal Şafak’s piece titled “Signs for the new term.”
What the prime minister spoke of at this lunch are significant in terms of containing the clues of his political strategy. The most remarkable part is his words on the election of the president.
Erdoğan said, “For the first time, people will elect the president. This is important from this aspect. The Constitution considers the president as the head of execution. After this election, the responsibilities will be much different, not a protocol president, but a sweating, running, tasking [others to run] president.”
There is a general consensus that with these expressions, the prime minister is describing himself for the Çankaya Presidential Mansion.
Erdoğan has some more time until the beginning of June for his Çankaya decision. Thus, he has the option of giving up at any moment.
Since Erdoğan gave the job description as “one who runs and sweats” and “one who assigns others to run,” it is evident that we will see a president who enjoys quite vast powers.
The aspect to highlight here is that Erdoğan recalled that the Constitution regards the president as the head of the execution.
Article 104 of the Constitution lists the duties and powers of the president starting with, “The President of the Republic is the Head of the State.” Likewise, in the beginning of the Constitution in the “General Principles” part, it says, “Executive power and function shall be exercised and carried out by the President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers in conformity with the Constitution and the law.”
Especially in Article 104, there are such powers that are granted to the president, but not used in practice, such as “To preside over the Council of Ministers or to call the Council of Ministers to meet under his/her chairmanship whenever he/she deems it necessary.”
The power regarding calling the Cabinet to meet has been used only twice in total by President Turgut Özal in 1991 and 1992.
What Erdoğan fostered in his heart was indeed to ascend to the mansion with a presidential or semi-presidential model with widened powers. A trick played by the 2011 elections is that the number of seats won by the AKP in Parliament was three seats (327) below the threshold of 330 to take the amendment in the constitution to a referendum. In order to cross this threshold, the option of forming an alliance with the BDP seemed politically risky to Erdoğan.
In this case, if Erdoğan ascends to Çankaya in August, he has to settle with the restricted powers defined in the 1982 Constitution. However, even so, he would first opt for using his powers till the end; for instance, he would call the Cabinet to meet.
Second, based on the signs he gave in his statement, he will introduce a new interpretation to the presidency, and in this framework start a search to widen his jurisdiction and borders of his powers.
While he is doing this, he will base the platform of legitimacy on the votes he gained. For this reason, for him to be elected to Çankaya in the first round and with a flamboyant rate may facilitate his political plans.
His popularity before his own grassroots and his communication with these segments will especially be one of the most important bases of Erdoğan’s political power in the case he ascends to the mansion. Also, there is no contradictory clause in the Constitution to stop him from holding – if he wishes – mass meetings every weekend in one province and deliver enthusiastic speeches.
However, even though there are no obstructions stopping him from “running and making others run,” potential risks should not be underestimated. Erdoğan’s efforts to widen the presidential powers may cause the stiches to rip out in the designer outfit tailored for the presidency according to the constitutional description.
The personality who is the dominant actor in using the powers of the executive body, according to the Constitution, is the prime minister. A prime minister who would look after his powers can block Erdoğan’s pursuits. Consequently, the most delicate chapter in the new term will be who will be the prime minister and what shape the relationship model between the president and the prime minister will take.