Presidential governance or absolute rule

Presidential governance or absolute rule

In this country, which has such a strong tradition of power-worshipping, moving to a presidential system of governance without establishing adequate checks and balances will probably only help along the transformation of the already-advanced police state into a full-fledged tyranny of autocratic rule.

The presidential system, however, provided that it is adequately equipped with mechanisms to prevent it from turning into a dictatorship, might be the most effective model for this country.

After years of ambiguity, it was (if I recall correctly) in the final days of 2010 when the de-facto absolute ruler of the country finally let the cat out of the bag and disclosed his “inclination” to “allow” the Turkish people to decide in a referendum whether they wanted Turkey to move to a presidential system. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the time was hoping that within months his consolidated parliamentary majority would be able to write a new constitution. Yet, though his party’s vote share increased to almost 50 percent in the June poll compared to the previous elections, his parliamentary strength was reduced and his party fell four seats short of even forcing a constitutional amendment through a referendum. That and other political complications forced the de facto absolute leader to postpone his aspirations for some time and seek consensus with other parties in writing a new constitution – a process which has failed to achieve much over the past few months.

Now, after his 21-day absence from Ankara politics, perhaps as a toy to distract public attention from his health condition, the discussion over a presidential system was rehashed before the prime minister returned to Ankara following surgery on his digestive tract.

Though I would not want to be part of a ploy of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), this discussion is of vital importance. With rampant signs of an advancing police state, political aspirations carrying the absolute ruler and his political clan to tyranny, as well as society’s perennial tradition of worshipping power, many of us might approach presidential rule with serious concerns. Perhaps those concerns are exaggerated. Perhaps presidential rule will provide Turkey better governance.

Thus, before we embrace it as a gift of the almighty sultan or reject it with the back of our hand as if it is a devilish idea, we should discuss and debate the presidential system, as well as the checks and balances that must accompany it, so that it does not turn into the theocratic dictatorship many of us are very much afraid of.

Perhaps instead of systemic change we should first concentrate on eradicating the problems of the existing multi-party parliamentary system, which has unfortunately become a majoritarian system of governance that has suspended the separation of powers; the supremacy of justice, equality and transparency; the sanctity of private life and such fundamental principles and the norms of democratic governance.

Can we have a free public discussion on this issue without risking a trip to the Silivri concentration camp?