Author Archives: Şule Özsoy

Turkey – No Presidential System but ‘Cohabitation’ for Erdoğan

The results of the 7 June parliamentary election change many things in the political scene of Turkey. It not only ended thirteen years of single party rule by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also thwarted President Erdoğan’s desire for “Turkish Type of Presidential System”. The President had actively campaigned for a governmental system change in favour of a Turkish type of hyper presidentialism for quite some time and turned this parliamentary election into a referendum on it, despite the constitutional clause obliging him to be unbiased and above party politics. Now the election results show that the AKP lost almost twenty per cent of its previous electors and its parliamentary majority seats, even though it remained the first party with forty per cent of the votes.

Many commentators believe that this is an outright rejection of presidential system and a endorsement of parliamentary practice. Even Prime Minister Davutoğlu agrees that voters did not endorse the idea of a presidential system. Research company Ipsos’ polls conducted right after the 2015 election show that 53 per cent of the electorate agree with this conclusion.

The new parliament is composed of four parties, none controlling a majority (276 seats are required to form a single party government). The AKP enjoys 258 seats. It is followed by the Republican People’s party (CHP) with 132 seats, Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (the HDP) with 80 seats, and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 80 seats. Thus, Turkey is entering a era of coalition government, which is associated with political and economic instability by many people due to not very successful previous examples.

The political climate is still highly polarised and is not quite prepared for a stable coalition as the MHP has already ruled out any coalition scenario with the AKP or HDP. The HDP has also ruled out a coalition with the AKP. The CHP as a left wing opposition party has a long history of disagreement with the AKP. Even if parties agree on some kind of coalition formula there is another actor whose reactions are determining: President Erdoğan.

As the first directly elected President of Turkey, Erdoğan not only enjoys democratic legitimacy but also the constitutional power to appoint the Prime Minister. If the council of ministers cannot be formed or fails to receive a vote of confidence within 45 days starting from the formation of the Bureau of newly elected Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), the president can call new elections. The president may choose to obstruct the formation of a coalition behind closed doors and force new elections or may never give the responsibility to form a government to a leader other than one from his own party’s.

However President Erdoğan’s first reaction three days after the election was to call on the country’s political parties to “leave egos aside” and form a government as soon as possible. He rejected the possibility of an immediate early poll by saying that he was not opposed to any coalition possibility and that leaders should try their best to form a government before new elections were due. He also invited the eldest deputy in the TGNA, the former leader of CHP Deniz Baykal, to discuss the election results. This meeting might be an indication that President is going to be active in the coalition formation process.

Even if a coalition government is formed and survived a vote of confidence in the TGNA, President Erdoğan will still have a weight in the executive branch and would potentially make it very difficult for any government to work with him. The Turkish Constitution grants more than a symbolic, but less than a policy-making role to the president. Before his election as president Erdoğan famously declared  that he would not be a traditional president hinting that he would interpret the constitutional rules outside the parliamentary tradition. He later pushed constitutional limits, chaired the cabinet regularly, interfered with the daily business of the Council of Ministers, created intra-executive conflict, and also directly violated his constitutional obligation of being impartial towards political parties.

The election results will not make a strong leader like Erdoğan  act more symbolically overnight, but it does mean a type of ‘cohabitation’ for him. He will no longer be able to dictate his policy choices directly. As for future governments it means that the president may meddle in the list of possible candidates for ministers, major executive appointments, executive decrees etc. by just simply refusing to sign them. The president may also impede the cabinet’s program to a degree. Indeed, a weak coalition or a minority government might potentially increase the president’s power or influence within the system.

Furthermore Erdoğan might turn any possible political instability or crisis into an opportunity to press again for a Turkish type of presidential system, pointing out the apparent shortcomings of the current system. He already argued before the election that coalition means disaster and there cannot be a coalition government under a presidential system, even though this is false.

How the current semi-presidential system will cope this difficult cohabitation is to be seen in the future, but one thing for sure is that it is not going to be easy for any of the actors.

Turkey – Intra Executive Conflict between the president and the PM

Since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became Turkey’s first directly elected president in August 2014 there have been rumours of growing tension between the President and his hand-picked Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

The first rumoured disagreement occurred right after President Erdoğan’s inauguration and concerned who PM Davutoğlu wished to appointment as his undersecretaries. These are top bureaucratic posts. There were claims that the prime minister could not appoint his chosen candidates due to the objections from the President. Later the issue was resolved when Prime Minister Davutoğlu appointed names approved by the president.

Soon there was another rift. This time it became public. One of the closest comrades of President Erdoğan, Binali Yıldırım, announced that Erdoğan was going to chair a cabinet meeting on January 5, 2015 and that such meetings would be repeated every two months. Apparently this was decided without the knowledge of the Prime Minister Davutoğlu as he denied that there was a meeting at the scheduled date. Deputy Prime Minister Arınç criticized Binali Yıldırım by saying that he didn’t possess any official authority to comment on cabinet meetings and that it was a matter for Davutoğlu and Erdoğan. Later President Erdoğan issued a public reminder that under the 1982 Constitution he had a power to preside over cabinet meetings. Subsequently President Erdoğan chaired the cabinet on 19th of January for the first time and then 49 days later for the second time, signalling that he will regularly chair cabinet meetings every one or two months from now on.

The next public rift concerned the way the government conducted the peace process talks with the PKK. President Erdoğan publicly condemned the government’s move to create a monitoring committee to oversee the peace process and claimed that he had no knowledge of it. This triggered a public response from the deputy Prime Minister Arınç. He denied Erdoğan’s claim that the President was uninformed about the process, but also stressed that “the government runs the country and the responsibility belongs to the government”. Deputy Prime Minister Arınç’s comments were a direct and open criticism of the President and for many people this was a signal of disagreement between PM Davutoğlu and the President Erdoğan.

Another disagreement concerned the chief of the MIT (National Intelligence Agency), Hakan Fidan. The peace process with the PKK was started by Erdoğan when he was the Prime Minister. He controlled the process with the help of Fidan, who was also a subject of disagreement between the President and the PM Davutoğlu. The Prime Minister encouraged Fidan to resign and run for a seat in the parliament. It seemed likely that he would do so until President Erdoğan intervened.

There have been other occasions where the president has been critical to the press of the government’s policy choices on the economy. For example, he continuously attacked Erdem Başçı, the head of the Central Bank, while government was defending his policies.

Still the question remains: is there really a conflict between the AKP government and its natural leader, the president? Some believe that President Erdoğan’s interventions are moves to affect voters in the upcoming parliamentary elections since “this election is too important for Erdoğan to be left to Davutoğlu”.

It also possible to argue that such displays of intra-executive conflict are designed to highlight the perils of semi-presidentialism and gain support for a strong presidential regime. Recently Prime Minister Davutoğlu claimed that “this system causes confusion over power sharing; it should be either clear parliamentary or clear presidential one so that whoever has power is held accountable”.

The disagreements may also be the result of the fact that a semi-presidential system has only just started to operate and political actors are getting used to how it operates.

Whatever the motives behind it, the Turkish political scene shows signs of intra executive tension between the AKP’ president and the government, even though the level of conflict is not too strong. In any case, the conflicts have not dragged on. They have almost always been resolved in the president’s favour.

Turkey – Erdoğan Continues His Campaign for a Presidential System

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long been calling for a new constitution to replace the country’s current semi-presidential system with a presidential one. In order to achieve his aim the president needs his AKP party to win the upcoming parliamentary elections in June 2015 with enough seats (at least two thirds of the total seats) to change the constitution. Therefore he is out to campaign both for an AKP victory as well as a presidential system despite the constitutional rule openly obliging him to be impartial.

On the one hand, in his campaign President Erdoğan often talks about a Turkish type of presidential system. This language first appeared in the AKP’s proposal to the ad hoc constitutional Consensus Commission in 2012. It referred to a type of hyper-presidential system with a single strong executive and very few constitutional constrains. However, for many people it is still not very clear if he is referring to a semi-presidential or a presidential system in this campaign. Even the President himself seems somewhat uncertain on the subject, saying “There are different presidential systems in the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Russia and France”, adding that Turkey may adopt its own form as well, hence conflating different types of semi-presidential and presidential models.

On the other hand, it can be assumed that his thinking excludes any possibility of a pure US-type presidential system or a French-style semi-presidential system since he openly criticises the separation of powers and an independent judiciary as obstacles that weaken efficient government, while he also advocates a presidential system with quite strong presidential powers largely free from a judicial control. Therefore, his model excludes the constitutional checks and balances embedded in the US or French models.

In his recent public speeches Erdoğan has claimed that “Turkey is wasting its energy with an ineffective system of parliamentary governance and the presidential system is in our history, our genes”, clearly confusing absolute monarchy with a presidential system. In Turkey multiparty democracy emerged as the same time as a parliamentary system in 1908 and since then there has been either a collegial system or governmental responsibility to parliament.

On his return from an official visit to Latin American Countries Colombia, Cuba and Mexico , President Erdoğan declared on 27 February 2015 that a Turkish-style presidential system could be established by picking suitable features of different presidential systems and especially the Mexican model. He praised Mexican constitution for creating a strong and efficient executive.

In the meantime, President Erdoğan has been interpreting the existing Constitution in line with a semi-presidential form of government claiming that he enjoys considerable powers and that he can influence the Council of Ministers. In this context, a semi-presidential (premier-presidential) system might be the second-best scenario for the President, only to be adopted during a transition period until the new presidential constitution is put into force or if Turkey’s constitution remains intact if the AKP were unable to adopt a presidential constitution.

In this context, the real question is whether the AKP will win enough seats in the upcoming elections to adopt a new presidential constitution. The polls suggest that the AKP will win the election, but it is not certain if the party will win enough seats to amend the constitution by itself.

There is one political actor that could change the political scene. This is the pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democracy Party), whose position in the elections might affect the results for the AKP. According to the electoral system (a d’Hondt system with 10% national threshold) if a party fails to win at least the 10 per cent of the votes nationwide the winning party automatically benefits from this party’s lost votes.

The HDP announced that they are running as a party in the whole country, even though their chance of overcoming the 10% national electoral threshold is slim. This is instead of supporting independent candidates in regions where they have widespread support. If they fail to pass the national threshold, all the seats that they would most likely have won by supporting independent candidates in the Kurdish regions would go to the AKP. In the end, those seats might give the AKP the chance to amend the constitution alone.

Turkey – President Erdoğan Moving Towards a Stronger Presidency

Turkey’s 1982 Constitution originally opted for a parliamentary system where executive authority was shared between the council of ministers and a president who used to be elected by the parliament. In this structure the Council of Ministers had the political responsibility for executive decision making authority.

The 1982 Constitution’s original text mainly saw the president as a neutral political mediator, representing the unity of the Nation and bestowing certain constitutional powers upon him to observe the implementation of the Constitution, and the regular and harmonious functioning of the organs of the State (Art.104). Despite having more than symbolic constitutional powers, the Turkish President has never been the real political chief of the Council of Ministers. The prime minister has occupied the centre of political authority at least until now.

In 2007 the parliament failed to convene to elect the president following the Constitutional Court’s judgement necessitating a supermajority quorum (two thirds of the total members). Following this gridlock, the Constitution was amended to make provision for direct presidential elections. The first direct presidential election was held in August 2014 and Tayyip Erdoğan was elected at the first round with fifty two percent of the votes. Even though no other constitutional rule has been changed regarding executive-legislative relations or presidential powers, electing the president by public vote has started to change parliamentary practices in Turkey that date back sixty years.

Since being elected as President, Erdoğan has changed traditions by moving into his new lavish AK Palace instead of Çankaya Mansion where all of the other eleven presidents of the Republic resided, as well as changing some of the other ceremonial practices like replacing red ceremonial carpets with blue ones, transforming the honorary guards’ outfits and some other details regarding the way official ceremonies are conducted. These ceremonial customs are not the only structures that he has challenged.

More significant changes relate to the organisation and functioning of the presidential office. President Erdoğan altered the organisation and functioning of the Presidential General Secretariat by way of a presidential decree on 9 December 2014. Previously, the General Secretariat of the Presidency had only four sections – administrative and financial affairs, corporate communication, information technologies, and human resources. These sections helped the President to perform his duties at the presidential palace. With this decree nine new sections have been created, adding to rumours that a “shadow cabinet” would begin to take charge. According to newspaper reports, the new sections are designed to develop policies and strategies, take a role in coordinating state bodies, and consulting the government.

The new sections consist of security policy, which will oversee the Kurdish issue, the fight against the Gülenist movement and other internal security issues, four separate sections for the internal workings of the presidency, a strategy desk, which will be in charge of ties with the government, and sections for foreign relations, social and cultural work, economy monitoring and coordination. The new sections will operate under the secretary general and his four deputies.

The new organisation of the General Secretariat of Presidency is entirely alien to a parliamentary system as a majority of the new sections correspond to ministerial offices and their field of jurisdiction. However, it suits a semi-presidential system well, in the sense that the president enjoys considerable political and constitutional powers. One can deduce from the new organisation that the topics that the president is especially interested in and would like to direct.

Subsequent to the reorganisation of the General Secretariat of Presidency, the deputy for Izmir, Binali Yıldırım, a close comrade of the President, announced that President Erdoğan would chair Cabinet meetings every two months beginning this year, with the first one scheduled for the 5th of January. Yıldırım added that the President could not avoid using his executive authority after coming to office with 52% of public support.

This announcement received an unexpected response from the head of the cabinet, Prime Minister Davutoğlu. The prime minister denied that there was any cabinet meeting scheduled to be chaired by the President and stated that any such meeting had to be decided by the Prime Minister and the President together and no other person should be involved in the process. It was obvious that the Prime Minister Davutoğlu did not have any prior knowledge of Yıldırım’s announcement. However, the President quickly declared that he had the power to chair cabinet meetings and will chair the first meeting on 19th January, also adding that no one has any authority over his decisions. This final warning was undoubtedly directed at the prime minister.
It has to be noted that no prior president has chaired cabinet meetings regularly; previously, presidents would only consider chairing cabinet meetings if there was a public emergency.

The changes suggest the transformation from a parliamentary system into a de facto semi-presidential one. Erdoğan’s changes are consistent with a stronger president.

Turkey – President Erdoğan moves into his new White Palace (Ak Saray)

Since becoming Turkey’s first directly elected president in August President Erdoğan has been transforming the formerly symbolic presidential post into a powerful office and referring to the new Turkey at every possibility. His calls for a stronger presidency have attracted criticism from different segments of the Turkish society which argue that he is breaking with the republican and parliamentary traditions of the country.

Recently President Erdoğan broke with one more constitutional tradition by not moving into old Çankaya Presidential Mansion where Atatürk and all subsequent Turkish presidents resided. Instead, Erdoğan replaced the relatively modest former presidential pad with an incredibly lavish palace constructed inside the Atatürk Forest Farm (AOÇ) on an area of 300,000 square meters, which is four times the size of Versailles, with 1,000 rooms, green granite inlays, and washrooms with silk wallpaper at a cost of about $615 million.

the new presidential palace

The new palace was inaugurated on 29 October 2014, Turkey’s annual Republic Day, which celebrates the declaration of Turkey as a republic in 1923. For the main opposition party it was highly symbolic that President Erdoğan has moved into his new lavish palace on Republic Day. According to the opposition, this is another attempt by the President to severe links to the legacy of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and to establish new traditions for new Turkey.

There have also been condemnations for the way in which the White Palace was constructed. The construction went against the orders of Ankara’s Administrative Court, since it has been built in a national park (Atatürk Forest Farm), one of Ankara’s few green spaces, and led to the cutting down of hundreds of trees. For some critics this shows Erdogan’s “increasing sense of being above the country he governs and the rule of law”.

The new palace’s name has also been debated in the press. It is called Ak Saray in Turkish (White Palace). The word “Ak” in the name also refers to the name of the ruling AK Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). This affiliation is also interpreted as another indication that the President is acting like de facto leader of the ruling party and the presidency is no longer an impartial, unifying and symbolic post, despite the constitution’s wording.

The palace is bigger than the Sultan of Brunei Istana NurulIman’s palace in Bandar Seri Begawan, which is known as the world’s largest residential palace with 200,000 square meters of floor space and cost $422 million at the time.

The new President’s highly criticised unprecedented spending is not limited by the new presidential palace. There has also been an 85 per cent increase in the presidential budget for  2015, indicating a change of presidency’s symbolic status, despite Turkey’s struggle to the reduce budget deficit.

Even so, there may be bumps along the road to a stronger presidency in the existing constitutional and political structure. There have been press allegations concerning undisclosed disagreements between the office of the new Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and members of Erdoğan’s team. It has been claimed that President Erdoğan intentionally left certain of his advisors at the Prime Minister’s office to report on every meeting. Prime Minister Davutoğlu and his team are reported to be getting increasingly annoyed by the President’s close watch and his secret midnight visits to the headquarters of the AK Party. It has also claimed that such disagreement has made President Erdoğan believe even more in the immediate need for a new presidential constitution.

Turkey – President Erdoğan’s Perception of Executive Power Sharing

After attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014, President Tayyip Erdoğan returned to Turkey announcing his plan to focus increasingly on foreign affairs. Erdoğan revealed his decision at the executive meeting of the Foreign Economic Relations Board on 28 September 2014 (Dış Ekonomik İlişkiler Kurulu-DEİK; a body supervising the foreign trade activities.) President Erdoğan announced to the Board Members, who comprise a group of businessmen close to the AKP government, that there was a power-sharing arrangement between him and Prime Minister Davutoğlu; he was responsible for leading foreign affairs while the Prime Minister was in charge of internal affairs.

The Foreign Affairs Relations Board used to be a non-governmental body, but a recent parliamentary bill brought it under the control of the Ministry of Economy. News reports suggest that President Erdoğan has decided the new working arrangements and priorities of the Board himself, indicating that he intends to establish a Turkish foreign policy with economic and political aspects and oversee the administrative agencies which are responsible for executing those policies.

Despite stating that his priority is to focus on international affairs, President Erdoğan has not stopped intervening in internal matters and talking to the press about those choices. Undoubtedly the most important internal matter that he is watching these days is the election of the High Council for Judges and Public Prosecutors (HSYK). The Council has power to appoint judges and public prosecutors to their posts and oversees all disciplinary procedures.

President Erdoğan and the AKP government claim that the Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen’s religious movement is trying to take control of the judiciary as well as the police and the army as well as plotting a coup against the elected AKP government. The President and Prime Minister Davutoğlu have vowed to remove all suspected Gülen supporters from the Judiciary and to stop what they call a “parallel state”. In order to instigate disciplinary procedures against suspected Gülen sympathizers within the Judiciary, the government needs to take control of the HSYK.

Furthermore, in the longer term, control of the HSYK would enable the AKP to filter out judges and public prosecutors, to appoint loyal judges to key posts, and to launch prosecutions against companies, NGOs and media outlets affiliated with the Gülen Movement. Consequently, the upcoming HSYK election on October 12 is very important for Erdoğan and the government.
The High Council for Judges and Public Prosecutors is composed of 22 regular members and 12 substitute members serving for a 4-year term. The President of the Council is the Minister of Justice. The undersecretary to the Ministry of Justice is the ex-officio member of the Council. The President appoints four regular members. One regular and one substitute member are appointed by the General Assembly of the Justice Academy of Turkey. The Academy works under the control of the Ministry of Justice, which appoints 7 regular members and one substitute member whom the government directly controls.

The rest of the regular and substitute members are elected by the Judiciary. The first part of these elections has been already completed. Members of the Council of State and the High Court of Appeal elected 5 regular and 5 substitute members to the HSYK. Candidates close to the AKP did not win any regular members or the majority of the substitute seats.
The second round of the HSYK elections is on 12 of October 2014, when first-category civil and administrative judges and public prosecutors will vote for 10 regular and 6 substitute members.

There are three groups of judges and public prosecutors running in the elections. The first one is the Unity in the Judiciary Platform (YBP), which has drawn up a list of approved candidates (known AKP loyalists) by President Erdoğan. The second group is the Judges and Prosecutors Association (YARSAV) composed of completely independent candidates, mostly social democrats or Kemalists. The third one is the Judges’ Union who are broadly sympathetic to the AKP but who are unwilling to identify with it by joining the YBP.

Although meetings are chaired by the Minister of Justice, the decisions of the HSYK are taken by a simple majority. The YBP needs to win at least five of the ten seats that are up for election so that the government can secure an overall majority. After losing seats to independent candidates in the first round President Erdoğan said, “As the head of the state, naturally, I will have a plan B or plan C, according to the results [of the second round of HSYK elections]”. Even though the President did not clearly state what kind of plans he has in mind, news reports suggest  that the plan is to redesign the  structure of the HSYK possibly with a new constitution after the 2015 elections.

According to the opposition, President Erdoğan and the AKP government want to reshape the judiciary and the justice system not only to prevent corruption and bribery investigations since the famous 17 December 2013 inquiries, but also to monopolize their influence over the judiciary and concentrate all political power in the President’s own hands. The opposition parties often accuse the president of trying to form a hyper-presidential system based on concentration of all constitutional and political power in his hands with no or very few checks and balances.