Is the AKP really after the American system?

Is the AKP really after the American system?

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is streamlining its preferences for a presidential system in Turkey and has decided that America provides the best example, except with some vital provisos. The whole debate is being spearheaded by Bekir Bozdağ, the AKP’s deputy head. 

Prior to traveling to New York from Washington on Friday, he responded to a question from reporters by saying that they wanted the whole debate about the presidential system to be based on “correct examples,” adding that “the correct example in this case is the American system.”

He was quick, however, to point out that this system could be emulated without adopting the federal structure in the United States, a taboo notion for Turkish nationalists. He did not, however, spell out what it was about the American system that he or the AKP liked.

Tarhan Erdem, a social democratic columnist for daily Radikal, and a key opponent of changing Turkey’s parliamentary system, was quick to point out that if you are referring to the American system, the notion of a federal structure comes into play automatically. 

Erdem said in so many words that you cannot have one without the other. He furthermore questioned what Bozdağ was referring to when he said “the best example is the American system.”

“What do you propose to take from America when establishing a presidential system in Turkey? Its 50 states; the way its state administrations are formed; its House of Representatives and its Senate; its judiciary, police force and education system? Please let us know so we can start debating the subject.” 

These are highly relevant questions which the AKP has not delved into at all. All it has said is that a presidential system will provide stability for the country. Bozdağ has even argued that if the public was properly informed about the matter it would opt for such a system without any qualms.

That is a highly contentious remark. Besides, surely informing the public properly about the matter has to involve the questions that Erdem is asking. Otherwise suspicions about what the AKP is really after will merely be fueled.

As matters stand, many argue that what the AKP really wants is a system where the president or leader, call him what you will, enjoys unencumbered powers to rule as he deems fit, without the checks and balances that exist in the American system. 

The suspicion is that what the AKP is after is a means to elevating Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the presidency in 2014, but turning the system of government into a presidential one by then in order to imbue this top job with executive powers that that the president does not enjoy today.

Given such suspicions it is becoming increasingly evident that consensus will be impossible on this subject during the current efforts in Parliament to write a new constitution, and that the matter will inevitably be dropped, for now at least. 

Of course, the AKP is well placed in the legislature to force through what it wants. But Prime Minster Erdoğan is on record as saying his party has no intention of forcing a new constitution on the country. 
It seem even he has realized that attempting to do so – especially if the new constitution will open the path to the presidential system that the AKP desires – will merely send an open invitation to political trouble and instability in the country.

Few doubt, however, what lies in Erdoğan’s heart of hearts; namely a presidency with serious executive powers, and with him filling this post by means of a popular election. 

Many fear that he is more inclined to a Russian type of presidential system than an American one. The AKP should say more to allay this suspicion.