Erdoğan’s presidential ambitions continue to divide Turkey

Erdoğan’s presidential ambitions continue to divide Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is not prepared to give up on the “presidential system” he wants for Turkey. He claims there are currently two “executives” in the country, since he was also elected president by popular vote in August 2014, and he argues that this could create problems. 

The main problem, however, is that he wants a system with few if any checks and balances to restrain the president from the arbitrary exercise of power. In other words, he wants a system where the elected “leader,” even if he garners only half the popular vote, has unlimited powers.

The elections on Nov. 1 returned the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to parliament with a strong majority. The AKP’s victory was not enough, though, for it to fashion a new constitution on its own and transform the country into the presidential system that Erdoğan wants.  

A new constitution can only be drafted with the support of the opposition. The opposition says it supports the idea of a new and more democratic constitution, but will not support one that includes stipulations about a presidential system.

Erdoğan answers this by saying that two referenda can be held: One for the new constitution, one for a presidential system. He is clearly relying on the popular vote that elected him president with 52 percent of the vote in August 2014, and has expressed his belief that the majority will favor a presidential system. 

But this is a dangerous calculation, which could leave the country even more divided than it is today, since half the nation will oppose such a system and refuse to accept Erdoğan as the sole leader of Turkey. 

The main point to underline here, however, is that a change of system is not on the public’s agenda. It is only on Erdoğan’s agenda. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also says that the issue of a presidential system is not a priority for his government.

Of course, Davutoğlu pays lip service to what Erdoğan wants, saying that every topic should be discussed freely when drafting a new constitution. But there is not enough force in his argument to suggest that he fully supports the idea of such a system for Turkey, which will end up pulling the carpet from under his feet.

So the situation is not exactly a comfortable one for Erdoğan. The likelihood is that he will not get his way, given the resistance from the opposition and the inability of the AKP to deliver what he wants without support from the opposition. One has to question, therefore, why he insists on bringing up the topic and causing unnecessary political arguments when the country is facing much more serious problems than this. 

If, as Erdoğan claims, there are two “executives” that could create problems in the future, the simple solution is for him to refrain from trying to exercise powers that the constitution does not give him, that instead are vested in the prime minister.

There is no doubt that Turkey urgently needs a new constitution, under which democratic rights are enhanced, in order to prevent the kind of abuses one sees today, when journalists can be sent to jail arbitrarily by a coopted judiciary simply to satisfy the needs of one person and his clique.

The alarming state of democracy under the AKP is precisely why Erdoğan should not be handed the system he wants. There is little in his remarks to suggest that if he becomes the leader he dreams of becoming he will make Turkey a more stable and democratic country that conforms to the highest democratic standards.

If Erdoğan’s intention was to fully democratize the country, he would refrain from pushing the “leadership system” he wants. Instead he would work, as the president of the whole nation, to unite the country under its present system, rather than dividing it with notions that have little relevance to Turkey’s current needs.