Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Reconsidering the Presidential System in Turkey

Academic journal article Insight Turkey

Reconsidering the Presidential System in Turkey

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT Debates on the system of government have been on the political agenda in Turkey since the 1960s, gaining momentum in recent years. Disengagement from the parliamentary system began with the election of the 12th President of Turkey by popular vote in 2014. To this end, the ruling AK Party and the MHP submitted a proposal to Parliament on December 10, 2016 to amend the Constitution. This article aims to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a presidential system for Turkey. As the debate unfolds, examining fully the pros and cons of a presidential system is vitally important.

Debates on the System of Government in Turkey

In pursuit of political stability, the debate about the system of government, and the advantages and disadvantages of a presidential system, is a critical factor in Turkey's democratization process. Debated since the 1980's, a transition from a parliamentary system to a semi or full presidential system was mooted by the late Presidents Turgut Ozal and Suleyman Demirel, in addition to former Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. Proponents of a presidential system argue it offers greater political stability. Ozal saw the parliamentary system as an obstacle to his reforms, describing the presidential system as a "generator of the transformation." Demirel, who was elected president after Ozal by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) on May 16, 1993, described the presidential post, in contrast to Ozal, as one that should remain politically impartial. Demirel suggested a presidential system would have benefits beyond managing economic difficulties, arguing it offered a way out of various crises such as the weakening of the execution, the formation of fragmented politics after non-political interventions, the failure of the parliament to form a government, or the failure of a government to win the vote of confidence. (1) Shortly after the establishment of the 59th Government in 2003, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reignited the debate declaring Turkey would be poised to make a great leap forward if an American-type presidential system were to be agreed. (2) The debate has waxed and waned in the intervening years but has gradually gained momentum since 2013.

The course of discussions reveals that the issue of political (in)stability most of the time has been degraded to government instability and that institutional arrangements (e.g., granting the president with more power and the authority of annulment, and electing the president by popular vote) are proposed to consolidate the stability of the executive body. (3) Some lean towards a presidential system as a solution while others prefer a semi-presidential system.

Since 2014, discussions about a semi-presidential system have, without doubt, dwindled. Elected the 12th President of Turkey by popular vote on August 10, 2014, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as head of the State, shares executive power with the Prime Minister. According to Giovanni Sartori, these two characteristics indicate a semi-presidential system. (4) As such, a semi-presidential sytem is de facto in force--and it is viewed as a stepping stone to a complete system as both the President and the governing AK Party have stated a transition to a full presidential system is the ultimate goal. The first draft of a presidential system prepared by the AK Party was brought forward in November 2013. For a new Turkish-style presidential system, the latest version of the draft has been crafted around the concepts of "indigenous and national" as declared by Erdogan. It is dubbed as the system of "President/Head of The People--Cumhurbaskanligi Sistemi."

When it comes to the presidential system, Sartori describes three basic criteria: accordingly, "a political system is a presidential system if and only if the head of the state (president) (i) is elected by popular vote, (ii) cannot be removed from office by a parliamentary voting, and (iii) presides over the governments s/he appoints or directs them in other ways. …

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