Turkey marks second anniversary of executive-presidency system

Turkey marks second anniversary of executive-presidency system

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had vowed that he has no excuses for errors and deficiencies in running his executive job when he was sworn in as a president with new powers on July 9, 2018.

The reason why he had put it that bluntly was based on the fact that the new and sui generis system empowers the elected president to run the country as the central decision-making body without effective check-and-balances.

Also, the new system was designed to diminish the “bureaucratic oligarchy,” something Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have long been criticizing for slowing down governmental activities.

Plus, in many cases, a presidential decree suffices to administer the country, sparking concerns that would lead to weakening the role of parliament.

This column in July 2019 had concluded that the first year of the executive-presidency did not work perfectly due to the implementation failures as many of the government officials and bureaucratic elite were just trying to familiarize themselves with it.

A study under the leadership of Vice President Fuat Oktay has revealed that 96 percent of the problems concerning the executive-presidency system was stemming from the implementation and that they could be fixed with minor touches.

Again, in the first year of the system, the AKP lost the mayoralty of the country’s biggest cities to opposition candidates in the March 2019 local polls, creating unease at the ruling party’s headquarters. At the time, Erdoğan blamed the mental fatigue that captured many of the AKP’s central and local organizations.

The second year of the system witnessed three main challenges: A heavy-loaded foreign and security agenda, COVID-19, and the worsening economy.

In October 2019, Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring into northeastern Syria despite the opposition of its Western allies and Russia. It had to cut it short due to increasing international pressure and signed two agreements, one with the United States and the other with Russia, to introduce a new status quo in the region.

Eyes later have turned to western Syria as Turkish troops had to engage in combat with Syrian regime forces in Idlib province. Dozens of the Turkish troops were killed, while the Syrian army suffered a great deal of damage as a result of clashes. The tension was de-escalated after Turkey and Russia agreed on the cessation of military activities on March 5.

In late November, Ankara signed two memoranda of understandings with Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) which paved the way for the government to enter the Libyan conflict. Turkey deployed troops and military equipment to back the GNA in its effort to defend Tripoli against General Khalifa Haftar’s forces. The conflict has speedily pitted Turkey against a coalition of countries, including France, Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The tension between the two warring sides will likely dominate the international agenda in the coming period as Turkey has already become the most active actor in the field.

All these reveal that this one-year period since July 2019 has observed the use of more hard power by Turkey through the use of its military deployments from Syria to Libya and in general in the Mediterranean basin.

Another important challenge in front of the government was and is the fight against the spread of the novel coronavirus. Many government officials have highlighted the executive-presidential system as the key reason behind Turkey’s success in containing the virus and keeping the death toll much lower than many developed nations.

A centralized system that abolished unnecessary bureaucracy, accompanied with a strong healthcare structure, is often mentioned as the key to Turkey’s remarkable achievement in tackling COVID-19.

Critics, however, complained that the system did not allow the participation of non-governmental bodies in the joint fight against the virus and was far from being transparent in disseminating the information about various aspects of the national struggle.

In the third place is an economy whose impacts are getting much more visible on daily lives as COVID-19 has brought a major additional burden on it. The Turkish Lira lost around 20 percent of its value in this period, while unemployment has become the problem of almost all households in the country. The system itself is not a remedy to the economic problems in the absence of an effective economic program, as proven in the last two years.

Unfortunately, not much has been recorded in terms of democratic reforms in Turkey in that period, weakening the image of the country abroad. At the political front, two former AKP members have formed their own parties while the opposition alliance consolidated its unity despite efforts from the ruling party. Some public opinion surveys suggest that Erdoğan would have difficulty in garnering the required 50 percent of votes if polls were to take place next Sunday.

It is true that Turkey would have faced the same challenges even if the system hadn’t changed but it is also true that shifting from a parliamentary to an executive-presidency was not a magic touch, as campaigned by government officials.