Making the system a point of discussion

Making the system a point of discussion

Today, I was going to write about a couple of modest but positive moves by the Higher Education Board (YÖK), but when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the system had changed, I was more interested in that theme as a law person myself. 

This is what the president said: “Now, [because I was elected by popular vote], there is no symbolic president in the country anymore but one with de facto powers. The president, indeed within the framework of the constitution, but directly responsible to the nation, has to conduct his duties... What needs to be done now is to verify with a new constitution the legal framework of this de facto situation.”

First of all, the concept of “the president with de facto powers” is extremely problematic legally. The law does not accept the concept of “de facto power.” Being elected by popular vote does not give “de facto powers” to the president. 

Did Erdoğan mean “political power?” Yes, under the rule of law, “political power” can change the constitution and laws in parliament but do not give “de facto power” to anybody. When the president’s powers have not been changed by the constitution and laws, then he cannot use “de facto power” just because he was elected by the people. 

In Europe’s parliamentarian democracies, the presidents of seven countries are elected by popular vote: Austria, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Iceland. In all of them the president is symbolic, above and outside domestic politics. 

Numerous legal experts have repeatedly made it clear that when the election process changes, it does not mean legal powers have also changed. Erdoğan did not accept this, he continued in his belief of “de facto power.” But then, serious conflicts in authority, disputes and tension erupt in the functioning of the system. 

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is trying to normalize relations with the opposition, which is correct. But both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) are concerned about the president’s intervention into the institution of government. They have expressed it repeatedly. 

Coalition talks are continuing. On the other hand, the president is mentioning “de facto power, the de facto situation and the de facto change of the system.” With his words and acts, he behaves as if we have switched to the presidential system. 

Where does the institution of government stand in this picture? 

Now put yourself in the shoes of the prime minister or an opposition leader in coalition or early election talks.What would you feel? How can a government rule a country with this sentiment? How can it generate trust? Can parties take responsibility and form a coalition with this feeling? Can the system function well? 

I have written all this to show how significant the “system” is and how it can function well with its culture and its practices. 

The only country where the presidential system is successful is the United States, because it was founded on a liberal culture; its practices have been entrenched throughout the centuries. “Poor Barack Obama” cannot dominate the Senate. Germany’s Angela Merkel, on the other hand, does not even dream of being an executive president because their system, with its culture, institutions and practices, has been established and settled. It functions properly thanks to this. 

Here in Turkey the parliamentary system has settled. Our issues stem from our conflict-loving culture, and also from our shortcomings at not being able to rationalize the parliamentarian system. What we need are acts that develop a culture of conciliation and the rationalization of the functioning of parliamentarian institutions. 

However, even under these highly serious circumstances of the country today, instead of facilitating the functioning of the system, what good is it to make the system a discussion point and further make it dysfunctional? Isn’t it obvious? We cannot even form a government.