The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon find himself with a raft of sweeping powers as his party pushes for a far-reaching law with limited checks and balances that would transform the current parliamentary system of Turkey into a presidential one. Last January 21, a number of constitutional amendments seeking to expand the powers of Turkey’s president won the support of 339 deputies in a parliament composed of 550 members.
Turkey requires 330 votes, a 60% threshold, to submit the current draft to change the political system structure to a referendum. While on paper such amendments simply involve a new system of governance, switching from a parliamentarian to a presidential regime; a closer look and a bit of background of recent events in the country, however, leave little doubt that the objective behind this change goes well beyond that. These amendments would move Turkey away from the core norms of a pluralist, democratic state of law; and transform it into a majoritarian authoritarian system. The proposed new constitution concentrates power in the hands of a single individual and blurs the lines between the ruling party and the state; moving the country backwards rather than forward.
While it is true that the Turkish democracy has long been a flawed one, with the state dominating society, tight government control of freedoms, personality cults around leaders and a long-lasting military tutelage; the country has sustained some sort of representative democracy as a political tradition, while not always effective, contemporary Turkey has always had some sort of separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.
If the executive presidency obtains popular approval, it will open the door not only to a model of an obedient society and authoritarian governance, but also lead to new institution-building processes in line with conservative values. This would of course benefit Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey as prime minister and president for 14 years, a “yes” vote would give him the chance to remain at the helm until 2029 under a provision that calls for simultaneous presidential and general elections in 2019, the year his current term ends, with a president eligible to serve two five-year terms. If this becomes true, Turkey will descend into a one-man regime.
If by his behaviour after last year’s coup attempt is anything to go by, when thousands were arrested and a much larger number of civil servants and lecturer were dismissed, it is clear that Erdogan is a man who will push the limits of these further powers to the maximum. This, in turn, is likely to accelerate the authoritarian shift that has been under way in Turkey for some time. In other words, the three main problems plaguing the country today: Erdogan’s personalisation of power, tendencies of power concentration and quest to build an authoritarian democracy model, are likely to deepen fast.
Under the draft, executive power is naturally transferred to the president. The president, however, is not only entitled to run domestic and foreign politics and approve laws, but is equipped with meta-constitutional powers: The president can issue legislative decrees and he would even be vested with the authority to dissolve parliament. A second issue is allowing the president to remain at the helm of a political party. Under Turkey’s existing electoral laws, the electorate votes for party tickets with multiple parliamentary candidates in broad electoral districts. The candidate lists are drawn up at party headquarters, mostly by the party leader. This would give the president full control over who the candidates would be and would lead to a much more subordinate legislature.
If this change of regime in Turkey goes ahead, this will also further complicate the relations between Turkey and Europe. The unprecedented events in the Netherlands, relating to the Turkish referendum just show a chilling glimpse of a possible future in which the Turkey can easily decide to turn its back on Europe.
*Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a political columnist and PhD candidate who has spoken at numerous international conferences on issues relating to international affairs. Her publications include:
“Brain Drain: Social and Political Consequences for Latin American Countries”, Grafía, Universidad Autónoma de Colombia, Vol.10, No.2 (2013)
“Fuga de Talentos: Consecuencias Sociales y Políticas en Países en Desarrollo en America Latina”, inL Chen, A Saladino Garcia, H Chen, La Nueva Nao : De Formosa a America Latina. Bicentario del Nombramiento de Simon Bolivar como Libertador, Universidad de Tamkang, China ISBN 978-986-5982-34-8 (2013).
“Colonial Legacies in Contemporary Latin America”, Revista Academus,Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro/Instituto de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Vol. 6, No. 10 (2014)