Using the democratic system to undermine democracy

Using the democratic system to undermine democracy

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is adamant that the president to be elected by the people for the first time on Aug. 10 will be an executive one. He has already declared Turkey’s system of government to be a de facto presidential one after that date.

Erdoğan has also made it clear that he is prepared to use what powers the president has to the hilt if elected president. He has not yet declared officially that he will run for the presidency of course, but the general expectation is that he will.

It is not clear how this is going to work, though, under Turkey’s present Constitution. Leading figures from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are referring to the powers in the 1982 Constitution given to Kenan Evren, the Chief of General Staff who led the 1980 coup and later went on to become president by contrived means.

They argue these powers are enough to provide a president elected by the people with executive powers. The 1982 constitution was the product of a coup that toppled the elected government of the day. It continues to be criticized for its undemocratic stipulations, despite all the amendments under the AKP since 2002, and by the government in power before that.

It is odd, therefore, for a party that rails on about the Egyptian coup to be pointing in this way to articles in a Constitution written under the auspices of a military-controlled assembly in Turkey. But even if we go along with what these AKP figures are saying, there is still a problem if Erdoğan becomes president.

This means Turkey will have an elected president who has declared his intention to exercise executive powers, as well as en elected prime minister who constitutionally is the head of the executive.

How a clash of authority somewhere along the line is to be prevented, even if the AKP installs an Erdoğan-friendly and subservient prime minister at the head of the government, is not clear.

It is no surprise that President Abdullah Gül decided “under prevailing conditions,” to use his words, to withdraw from politics after his term is over. He clearly did not want to harm the AKP’s mission spearheaded by Erdoğan by also running for the presidency. 

On the other hand, he obviously did not want become a prime minister that plays second fiddle to Erdoğan as president. Whatever his thoughts may be, Gül has declared openly that he has no political plans for the future, and can therefore be considered out of the picture for now.

There is also the problem of what significance Parliament will have under an Erdoğan presidency, other than satisfying his wishes based on the number of seats the AKP gets in the general elections in 2015.

Under the system Erdoğan proposes, there will be no checks and balances or separation of powers to stymie him. The way he has declared war on the Constitutional Court for annulling undemocratic legislation introduced by the AKP is also telling in this respect.

While most AKP’s deputies in Parliament apparently want to see Erdoğan as president, it is not clear if all of them are happy about the implications of this for themselves if he assumes this office. Today, however, all AKP deputies have little choice but to work to make the Erdoğan presidency happen.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that Erdoğan wants to speedily introduce an electoral system for Parliament where candidates are elected just like mayors, based on the majority they gain in their districts, and without any electoral barrage to contend with.

Analysts maintain that the intention here is to pile in as many AKP deputies as possible into Parliament in the general elections planned for 2015 and to get them to rubber stamp a Constitution that will make Erdoğan’s “de facto” presidential system into a “de jure” one.

Turkey under the AKP is turning into a unique example of how a democratic system can be used to undermine pluralistic democracy.