A vote to save the republic

A vote to save the republic

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is pushing harder by the day for a presidential system. He now says the parliamentary system has been put in the ante-room and it is only a presidential system that can save the republic.

He also insists there are many countries run by presidential systems and there is no reason why Turkey should not be another one. While saying this, he does not appear to make any distinctions between democratic and anti-democratic countries. He does not clarify, in other words, whether his vision is a Turkey run by a democratic presidential system – with all checks and balances tying the president down constitutionally – or by a system that amounts to a one-man rule.

We know from his own declarations, for example, that he finds the American system too constricting for the president, so one can assume he wants a system where the president has a free hand to do as he will. All of Erdoğan’s remarks point to one fact alone. He will not be a president that everyone in Turkey looks up to. In plain English, he has no intention of being bipartisan. He intends to be the president of those who elected him and to push for their interests alone.

By his own admission, directly prior to flying to Slovenia for an official visit on Monday, his was the guiding hand as the government prepared its electoral declaration for the upcoming June general elections, specifically regarding the presidential system’s section.

Erdoğan feels no need to reflect the political impartiality the president in Turkey has to maintain constitutionally. He is the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) president and will only look after those who vote for him and the AKP. That, of course, leaves nearly half the population out.

Based on his now well-known ideological leanings, that also means that he intends to push for a Turkey run according to an Islamist worldview, not a secular one. Put another way, he will be involved in a constant struggle against secularist elements, and thus will need draconian anti-democratic legislation.

Looking at what is happening in Turkey today, it is not hard to see what Erdoğan is aiming for, even if he managed to pull the wool over the eyes of his unquestioning supporters, who actually remind one of followers of a religious leader, rather than rational and questioning voters.

Erdoğan’s ambitions, however, are built on a “winner-take-all” type gamble and this could end up as his undoing. He needs the AKP to win enough seats in parliament in June to change the constitution on its own and realize his dream of becoming an unencumbered president.

In other words, it is not sufficient for the AKP to just win the elections; it must win big. Erdoğan’s nightmare is that if this does not happen, he will be trapped in the presidency, trying to exercise powers that the constitution does not give him. In that case, just like his ostentatious presidential palace (illegal because it did not obtain the required planning permission), his exercise of executive powers as president will not be legal.

It will be a “de facto fait accompli” to the extent he can push. Recent grumblings within the AKP also show he may not be able to push this very far, because, even within his own camp, not everyone is convinced by his “vision” for Turkey.

The picture today suggests that Turkey is in for more political tensions and anti-democratic pressures on opponents of Erdoğan’s ambitions. He is asking voters to help him become the president he wants to be so he can save the republic.

It seems the real task of the rational and free-thinking voter in June will be to save the republic from Erdoğan’s patently anti-democratic ambitions.