Turkey – Constitutional Reform Package Proposing a Presidential System is Presented to Parliament

Turkey’s President Erdoğan is closer than ever to realising his long held dream of introducing a presidential system after receiving the backing of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in parliament. Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured a deal on a constitutional reform package that would create a strong executive presidency. The proposal was introduced to the Grand National Assembly on the 9th of December, signed by 316 AKP MPs. According to the current Constitution, the proposal needs at least 330 “yes” votes of 550 members of parliament in order to be submited to referendum. The AKP would only need 14 more votes if all of its members vote “yes” in a secret ballot voting. The MHP currently has 39 members in the Parliament. Even though some of the MHP MPs announced that they would vote “no” to the presidential system, the Leader of MHP, Devlet Bahçeli, is likely to secure the needed 14 votes.

The constitutional reform package replaces the semi-presidential system with a single executive. The president is given very important executive and legislative powers, like vetoing legislation, having the sole authority to prepare and present the budget to the parliament for a simple “yes” or “no” vote, issuing decrees with the force of law where there is no legislation on the matter, declaring a state of emergency and issuing emergency decrees. Ordinary decrees are not able to regulate individual and political rights and freedoms or issues where the constitution openly necessitates legislative rules like taxation. It means that social and economic rights would be able to be regulated by presidential decrees. The authority to issue decrees with the force of law would empower presidents such that under certain political conditions presidents may bypass legislative organs. This authority also differentiates the US model from the Latin American type of presidentialism (Cheibub– Elkins, Ginsburg : 2011).

According to the agreed proposal, the president may also call a referendum on constitutional amendments, dissolve the legislative assembly, appoint and remove all ministers and bureaucrats at will, regulate the entire public service by decrees, appoint a majority of the members of Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, which oversees judges, and public prosecutors, including appointments to Court of Appeal and three quarters of the members of the Council of State. The president would also be able to appoint a majority of members of the Constitutional Court. This type of power of appointment gives the president total control over the judiciary.

Aside from those strong constitutional powers, the proposal proposed concurrent presidential = and legislative elections. It seems that authors of this proposal wish to secure a majority in the parliament for president’s party. Considering that Turkey has a predominant party system (the AKP won all the elections since 2002) and parties are very cohesive, this formula is likely to secure a clear and obedient majority for presidents in the parliament. Even if they were to lose a majority in the parliament, the president could still rule alone with decrees.

Overall. the proposal will result in a weak legislature. The president will have the power to bypass the Grand National Assembly. Even the impeachment process requires a two-thirds majority. That said, if three-fifths of the assembly vote in favour, new concurrent presidential and legislative elections can be held. The same authority, though, is given to the president as well. Clearly, it is easier for the president to make such a decision than a super majority of the assembly. The president could also call upon this power to threaten disobedient assemblies with an unexpected early election and it will only serve to strengthen his political presence in practice. It is worth remembering that the power to dissolve the legislature is very uncommon in presidential constitutions. In Latin America only Uruguay and Venezuela gives power of dissolution to presidents depending on certain conditions and in Africa this power is granted to the presidents of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Seychelles.

This constitutional reform package promises to create a hyper-presidential system based on by ultra-nationalist and Islamist ideas. Turkey is increasingly turning its back on the Western world and ideals such as liberal democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

A strong presidency is considered to be the sole remedy for all of Turkey’s problems by President Erdogan and his party. Erdogan argues that Turkey will develop much more rapidly under a presidential system. Currently, Erdoğan is ruling the country without any obstacle by way of emergency decrees after the coup attempt in July. According to Freedom House, Turkey has no press freedom and only partial internet freedom. Leaders of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), one of the three opposition parties in the parliament, as well as 8 other MPs have been detained. Almost all critical newspapers, radio, and TV stations have been harassed, closed down or threatened in one way or another. Turkey has among the highest number of journalists in jail. The Turkish army is fighting both in Turkey and Syria and news if these actions is often censured. As the state of emergency is extended, political instability is affecting economic situation and pushing Turkey towards an unpredictable future. Yet Erdoğan never gives up on his long held dream of an executive presidency.

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