Turkey – Putting an entire state structure under construction

Turkey’s move to a presidential system with the 2017 constitutional amendments came into force following the general elections in June 2018. This move necessitates a transformation of the entire state structure, administrative law, and institutions. Since the foundation of the Republic in 1923 Turkey has not faced such a vast institutional transformation. It would not be wrong to label the new era as “the second republic”.

Since the first Ottoman Constitutional period in 1876, the chosen political system was mostly parliamentary system. The convention system (1920-24), and the semi-presidential system (2014-2018) were briefly tried, but served as transitional periods mostly. A presidential system has never been implemented until now. Therefore, the new presidential republic signifies a big departure in the political history of the country as well as the state tradition. Accordingly, almost the entire state structure has to be adapted to the new system.

In the former republican state structure, the executive branch was dual; there was the council of ministers headed by prime minister, and the president. The ministries were designed hierarchically from the centre towards the periphery under the authority of ministers. Political decisions were made in the council of ministers and parliament. Accordingly, political responsibility to parliament was shared by all members of the council. The political centre was parliament. Ministers were mostly members of parliament. The administration of state institutions was executed in accordance with acts of parliament. Governments needed a vote of confidence from parliament and parliamentary legislation in order to put their program into practice. Political parties holding a majority of seats were also influential over the executive and legislative practice.

Now, the president has replaced the council of ministers. Ministers are not the hierarchical administrative superiors for the lower ranking civil servants. The administrative structure is not designed in accordance with legislation any more. Presidential decrees have replaced legislation to designate ministries, all state institutions, the duties and responsibilities of civil servants etc. Former structures have been abolished by presidential decrees. The president has already issued 15 decrees to reorganise the state. Most of the former bureaucrats and civil servants had to be retired early. The current condition for many state institutions is chaotic. Some of them have been abolished under decree no.703; some of them have been renamed, united under single institution and reorganised Twenty-six ministries have been reduced to sixteen. There are also newly founded offices and policy committees under the presidency. In addition to ministries, there are four specific offices and nine policy committees in ministerial service eras such as health, education and economy that are directly under the presidency. Ten other separate institutions are also directly run by the president such as national intelligence service, the presidency of religious affairs, Turkish sovereign wealth fund.

There are four important characteristics of the new system:

a. It is created to unite, not to divide the state structure. The separation of powers cannot be seen in the structural organisation. Accordingly, hardly any checks and balances are left in the system. State power is organised and united under the presidential office and regulated by presidential decrees.

b. The assembly lost a big chunk of its former powers including a general law-making power in every subject. The assembly does not even have new parliamentary procedures currently. It does not have important permanent committees to engage in checks and balances, or committees of inquiry as in strong legislatures such as the US or Chile.

c. Ministerial offices have also lost their former position. It seems there are superior and parallel offices under the presidency to plan and execute policies. All important decisions are to be made by the president or presidential office. This potentially slows the bureaucracy down to a great degree.

d. The organisational structure resembles a holding company. The president intends to run the state like a company, and eliminate the old bureaucratic elite by creating superior and more loyal inner offices. He even appointed some outsiders like former CEOs or businessmen as ministers.

While the Turkish state structure has been reshuffled, President Erdoğan is having the most difficult time in his political carrier due to the deepening economic crisis. It is hard to predict how Turkey is going to manage to transform its state structure and perform efficiently under such bad economic conditions. It will also test President Erdoğan’s argument that the new system is capable of good management. So far he has managed to put the blame on foreign forces, such as USA for deliberately rising exchange rates and waging an economic war on Turkey, but eventually he will need to tackle the country’s economic problems and get good results under the new system as he promised to his voters.

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