Erdoğan, AK Party revive pursuit of presidential system switch

Todays Zaman
Publication date: 
Nov 04 2015

After the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won an unexpected landslide in the general election on Sunday, the issue of a transition to a presidential system is being touted by government officials once again amid rumors that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is looking to pressure the ruling party to opt for a switch.

Turkey may hold a referendum on a new constitution to create an executive presidential system and discussions on the issue will accelerate in the period ahead, Erdoğan's spokesman said according to Reuters.

“An issue like the presidential system can't be decided without the nation. If the mechanism requires a referendum, then we will hold a referendum," he told reporters three days after the AK Party upset polls and won back the single-party majority it lost in June.

“The executive presidency is not a question of our president's personal future. He has already entered the history books. The basic motivation is to make the system in Turkey as effective as possible,” he added.

On Tuesday, AK Party Deputy Chair Yalçın Akdoğan said they see the presidential system as important as the debate for a new constitution, underlining that the issue of a switch from a parliamentary system to an executive-style presidency “is one of the issues we [AK Party] cannot renounce.”

“This system is becoming too small a fit for us,” Akdoğan said, referring to the parliamentary system currently in place. “We see the presidential system as an issue that is as important as the new constitution, which is necessary for the growth of Turkey,” he said, adding: “The framework is important. There are different models. I think there can be an agreement on a point that is inherent to Turkey and foresees Turkey's conditions.”

The AK Party won 49.29 percent of the vote on Sunday while the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) secured 25.5 percent. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lost a quarter of its voters compared to the June 7 election, winning 12 percent.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) won 10.69 percent, just above the 10 percent threshold to enter Parliament.

HDP spokesperson says presidency can be discussed, later retracts statement

The HDP, which won a startling 13 percent in the June election, relieving the AK Party of its 13-year stranglehold on power, with a slogan that targeted Erdoğan: “We will not allow you to be president [in a presidential system],” is now showing signs it has softened on the issue.

HDP Spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen told the Cumhuriyet daily the HDP is willing to “debate the presidential system” with the AK Party.

Expressing that Turkey needs a more pluralistic, democratic and free constitution, Bilgen said: “We promote the parliamentary system. We believe the parliamentary system will develop democracy.”

“But to turn the debate on a new constitution into a taboo, saying things like, ‘We will not debate a presidential system,' is against [the spirit] of the process of forming a new constitution,” he added.

Bilgen later on Wednesday said on his Twitter account that his words had been incorrectly understood, claiming he meant to say the HDP “insists it its against a presidential system.”

“We [the HDP] say every issue must be debated, they [newspapers] claim we said the presidency should be debated. If we are this incapable of understanding each other, then a new constitution is a long way off,” he wrote, reiterating the HDP's claims that it is against a presidential system.

Sources: Erdoğan will be more aggressive in pursuing presidential switch

In an article in the Zaman daily, Emre Soncan claims Erdoğan has already begun pressuring top AK Party officials to begin touting the transition to a presidential system.

According to his confidential sources, Soncan claims Erdoğan is preparing to entice 13 deputies from other parties to join the party in order to allow the AK Party to gain 330 deputies in Parliament.

The AK Party needs at least 330 deputies to vote in favor of a draft proposal for it to go to a referendum. The AK Party has, as of Sunday, been able to field 317 deputies, according to the unofficial results.

Soncan purports Erdoğan and the AK Party may look to strike a deal with the HDP regarding a proposal, in return for reinitiating the settlement process with the pro-Kurdish party and the terrorist Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).

The settlement process was launched by the government at the end of 2012 in cooperation with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan to settle the country's long-standing terrorism problem and the Kurdish issue in its mainly Kurdish-populated southeastern provinces.

Nearly 40,000 people have been killed in clashes with the PKK since 1984, when the armed group launched its first attacks. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, the European Union and Turkey.

CHP secretary-general: we will support new constitution, bar presidential system

Republican People's Party (CHP) Secretary-General Gürsel Tekin said his party would support a push for a new constitution provided it does not aim to change the system of governance into a presidential style one.

Speaking to Today's Zaman on Tuesday, Tekin said, “If they [AK Party] say they want to form a new civilian constitution that underpins individuals' freedoms, that lauds democracy, we will assist them to that end.”

“However, if they are hoping to draft a new constitution just to satiate someone [Erdoğan] and poison the constitution-making process, then they are not welcome at our doors,” he added.

“They [the AK Party] themselves know the dreams of a presidential system are nothing more than a delusion,” Tekin remarked.

Turkey has enjoyed nearly 140 years of constitutional experience since the inception of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, known in Turkish as the Kanûn-u Esâsî, and the parliamentary system has been the defining characteristic of all constitutions to follow.

In its 60-odd years of multi-party politics, including four military coups and even the execution of a prime minister, Turkey has never taken a step to change its system of governance to a presidential one.

Erdoğan has emphasized the superiority of the presidential system many times in the past, saying he wants to change the current parliamentary system of government to a strong presidential system.

Claiming that most-developed countries are governed by a presidential system, though this is not actually the case, he said in January: “That shows that this [system] produces [better] results. Given this, why should we put shackles on our feet [by sticking to a parliamentary system]?”