Tag Archives: Turkey

Turkey – A drastic transformation into a hyper-presidential, competitive authoritarian state

According to President Erdoğan, last year’s coup attempt by Fetö (an organisation led by a clerk called Fettullah Gülen who previously was closely allied to the president Erdoğan) was a blessing from God. This statement may sound like an odd claim since the President’s life was also said to be targeted on the night of July 15, 2016. However, sadly it is true that it gave Erdoğan an opportunity to declare a state of emergency, pass 28 decrees with the force of law reorganising many institutions without being bound by the constitution, and that violated many human rights conventions that Turkey has ratified such as the ECHR.

Many of these emergency decrees passed by the government are not even related to the cause of the crisis, even though under the constitution the subject of an emergency decree has to be limited to the cause of the given emergency. Despite their apparent violation of many articles of the constitution, and the ECHR, the constitutional court, two members of which were dismissed from their posts a year ago as a result of one of those decrees, refused to examine the constitutionality of the decrees, waiving its previous jurisdiction stating that the emergency decrees are limited to matter related only to the cause of emergency, and that they may be applied only during an emergency.

The Constitutional Court’s free pass merely reflects the country’s current repressive climate created by the emergency laws. These decrees reregulated public institutions including the National Intelligence Service, the army, local municipalities, and served to dismissed== more than 103000 public servants, university lecturers, appointed trustees replacing elected mayors and other local authorities (mostly pro-Kurdish HDP’s). They enforced new policies at full speed in the light of the AKP’s Islamist political beliefs, such as changing school system to promote religious schools as tools of transformation into a more Islamic country, closing down more than 150 media outlets, 1000 associations and foundations, and seizing private companies worth more than 10 billion dollars. But the most crucial change is the reorganisation of the judiciary, the ministry of justice and criminal enforcement. Currently, more than 4300 judges have been dismissed for being related to the Fetö organisation, some based on their previous decisions. Any judge who passes a judgement contradicting the President’s goals will be accused of being a member of Fetö, and can be easily dismissed since the president has a full control of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors, which are appointed by him and the majority of the members of the Grand National Assembly which the AKP controls.

Since the coup attempt, more than 50.000 people and 166 journalists have been imprisoned as a result of the government’s crack-down operations. This has created a serious climate of fear and intimidation reflected in the number of people who are seeking asylum. In this climate one important change has also been made; the constitutional reform package introducing a hyper-presidential system was adopted by the AKP and its partner, the MHP, and was approved in a referendum in April that was neither free nor fair. Despite the huge advantages that the government forces enjoyed, their proposal was accepted by the margin of only one percent and with the help of the High Election Council, which ignored Law number 298, article 101 which openly states that unsealed ballot paper are invalid, thus accepting an unknown number of invalid votes that otherwise would not have been counted. The High Election Council’s decision was taken after the actual counting had started. This sparked a reaction that the counting was also not fair. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s observers criticized the referendum process for not living up to the democratic standards, including the counting procedure. The main opposition party, the CHP, also claimed that “no votes” were in fact in the majority and that unsealed ballot papers were fakes, filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights. The case is still pending.

This summary of events tells only the final part of Turkey’s transformation from parliamentary democracy into hyper-presidential autocracy within a decade under AKP rule.

President Erdoğan is free from any checks and balances. He enjoys full control of every state institution and most of the media. Due to the state of emergency, constitutional guarantees of basic rights are currently suspended, giving the president the opportunity to transform a formerly parliamentary democracy into an hyper-presidential system (changing laws to fit the new regime such as election law, parliamentary rules and procedures, laws of political parties etc) which will be fully in force in 2019 after the elections to be held then.

Turkey – Two weeks until the most important referendum in the country’s constitutional history

With two weeks to go until the most important referendum in Turkey for decades, the situation is looking increasingly tense and people are more and more divided. The stakes are high for both sides. If the “no” vote wins, this would shake Erdoğan’s long-standing populist rule. However, if Turkish voters prefer a “yes” vote this would  mean not only leaving behind the parliamentary tradition, but also turning the country’s back on basic European ideals, including liberal democracy.

The proposed Turkish type of presidential system would grant President Erdoğan the power to redesign the country’s state structure and rule pretty much as he pleases. This system has been promoted as a neo-ottomanist, pro-Islamist reform that would create a national, home-grown system.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, Turkey has adopted a model of modernisation. But now, such a modernisation process, which involves the secularisation of state and society, is increasingly being presented by the ruling party, the AKP, as being different from the country’s Islamic culture, despite the fact that Islam was itself an import from the Arab world. The constitutional reform is defended and legitimised as marking the reversal of an unlucky history and the resurrection of the Ottoman Empire, even though the real Ottomans are now long gone. Anyone who is against the reform is portrayed as being either a traitor or a terrorist. This simple and rather superficial propaganda has been repeated so often by President Erdoğan and other AKP politicians that it has dangerously increased the level of polarisation in the country, and which has already been at a very high level for the past 10 years. One journalist who is close to Erdoğan has branded Turks who believe in western ideals as partly alien to their native culture and claimed that even so, if the “yes” vote wins they will be granted the right to live as a sign of generosity since they are good Muslims. This type of thinking hints at the general ideology that is feeding Erdogan’s one-man rule. He is being portrayed as the saviour of Islam who will end the secular republic founded by Atatürk’s revolution.

Erdoğan has based his campaign on strong nationalist and Islamist ideals, and has used polarisation as a tool to consolidate conservative right-wing votes. To this end, not only has he promoted internal divisions against both secularists and religious and ethnic minorities, but he has also labeled everyone who rejects his vision of Turkey as being on the same side as the terrorists. His aggressive rhetoric is not limited to internal affairs. He regularly targets the Western world. After Germany, Austria and Holland restricted the AKP’s political rallies in their countries, he had the much needed opportunity to exploit nationalist feelings by attacking the governments of those countries as Nazis, despite the fact that the Turkish law itself bans Turkish political parties from campaigning abroad. His tactical choice of using aggressive, popular and polarising language has paid off in previous elections, given he has not lost since 2002. However, it is not certain how the Turkish public will react to this type of rhetoric now. Economic and political ties with Europe are too strong to be suddenly cut off without any consequences.

Erdoğan and other AKP politicians hardly mention the details of the reform. They only claim that a presidential system will make Turkey great and more democratic. There will be no coalitions; therefore the system will bring political stability and economic growth.

Erdoğan is not alone in his campaign. The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahçeli, is also on his side, campaigning for a presidential system even though some of his party’s current and former MPs have openly declared that they will say “no” to the change. Also, recent polls have suggested that a majority of the party’s voters are likely to to vote “no”. Bahçeli argues that a presidential system will help to keep Turkey together and that all terrorists will be destroyed if the new system is passed.

Using polarisation as a weapon to unite conservative voters is not the only tried and trusted method of Erdoğan and his supporters. Silencing the opposition has been another aspect of their competitive authoritarian rule for some time. According to a report from the Union for Democracy, an NGO, regarding air time from 1-20 March, the “yes” coalition got 486 hours, the main opposition party, CHP, got 45.5 hours, and the pro-Kurdish HDP got zero hours. In addition, the state of emergency since the failed coup attempt in July is still in force, and opposition rallies and meetings have regularly been cancelled because on security grounds. Systematic obstruction, including physical attacks and death threats, have been commonplace. Yet, despite the uneven competition, polls suggest that this referendum may not be as easy to win as previous elections.

The main opposition party has chosen a softer approach and avoided polarisation. They have not used their party symbols and have tried to unite different groups by emphasising that it is a national matter that is above party politics. They argue that this change will create one-man rule, will weaken the Grand National Assembly, diminish judicial independence, and destroy democracy, which has already had a troubled time in Turkey.

The leaders of the other opposition party, HDP, and many of its MPs are currently imprisoned, and others have been silenced by the mainstream media. This party has also quietly campaigned for a “no” vote, even though there are people claiming that HDP voters of Kurdish origin have lost interest in being part of Turkey’s future and may not prefer to vote at all. The overall picture is not that of a free or fair campaign for the opposition and confirms that Turkey is competitive authoritarian regime as defined by Levitsky and Way in their 2010 book “Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War”. If this proposed hyper-presidential system is approved by the majority of people, avoiding competitive authoritarianism will become much more difficult.

Turkey – Erdoğan is closer than ever to his dream of a hyper-presidential system

On January 21 the Turkish parliament passed a constitutional reform package introducing a presidential system. the reform was passed with 339 votes in favour, slightly more than the minimum threshold of 330 votes. The ruling AKP party had the support of Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the pro- nationalist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and some of his party’s MPs, despite the fact that considerable number of the MPs and party supporters opposed the proposal. Now the reform bill is going to be sent to the President Erdoğan’s Beştepe Palace  for promulgation. He has two choices, either send it back to the Grand National Assembly for reconsideration, or refer it to a referendum. It is expected that he will refer it to a referendum, which will take place in April.

The reform package has no provisions enhancing basic rights or correcting the defective Turkish democracy. The constitutional amendment has two important and interconnected intentions; one is to change the current semi-presidential system into a hyper-presidential system and the other is to reform the judiciary so that the president can have a major role in the formation of judicial supervisory body, the Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors.

The reform package abolishes the dual executive and replaces it with a president who is the sole executive authority. He appoints all ministers, undersecretaries, and bureaucrats without the approval of the assembly. He has the power of legislative decree. He may regulate any issues that are not enacted by the assembly in detail, except individual and political rights, and he may do so without an enabling law or any prior conditions, such as necessity or urgency. When it comes to issues enacted by the assembly, the president may claim that the parliamentary act is not detailed enough or that his decree is covering another aspect of the issue. There is no retrospective examination of decrees by the assembly either. This type of regulation is always likely to create legal chaos. The constitutional court has the power of judicial review over presidential decrees. However, the president’s power to appoint 12 of the 15 court members for a 1- year term creates certain doubts that the court may not be independent enough to actually challenge the presidential will.

Furthermore, the president may create or abolish any public legal entity, regulate the duties, powers and the structure of ministerial bodies from top to bottom, and change the whole administrative structure by decrees without needing a parliamentary act. This means that he may reorder the main principles of administrative law without a parliamentary act. This is a big change in Turkish administrative law, since one of its main principles is that administrative law has to be enacted by parliament (the legality principle). If the reform is accepted in the referendum, the person who makes the rule will be the same person who implements that rule. There will be no external oversight of the administration, making administrative courts meaningless.

In addition to above-mentioned powers, the president will also have the power to declare a state of emergency and issue emergency decrees which may infringe or suspend all constitutional rights without any judicial review. Such a powerful legislative decree authority is hard to find in any Latin American Constitutions, even though almost all the current Latin American constitutions give presidents the power of legislative decree. In this region, they either require prior enabling laws (Chilean Constitution art. 32/3), or they can only be issued if the usual law-making procedures in parliament are not working properly and when there is an urgent need for such decrees (Argentinian Constitution art.99/3, Brazilian Constitution art.62). Such power also comes with retrospective control exercised by the assemblies, which is not the case for ordinary decrees (only for emergency decrees) in the current Turkish constitutional reform proposals.

The president is also responsible for determining and implementing national security policies as well as having the power to decide to use the army. Under the current constitution, this type of decision making traditionally involved chiefs of staff, the council of ministers, and the parliamentary assembly.

In addition, the president also has the power of parliamentary dissolution, again without any prior conditions or time limits attached. The parliament would mean that an early presidential election is held as well, since the two elections have to be held concurrently to help guarantee that the party led by the president can also win a majority of parliamentary seats. The parliament may also decide to call an early election, but this would require a three-fifths majority of the whole members (360 of 600). Clearly, a single person is more likely to make such a decision than an extraordinary majority. The president may dissolve the legislature if there is a conflict with the majority, or when he is about to be impeached and right before the decision to send the case before the constitutional court, or simply at a convenient time. Dissolution power is quite rare in presidential systems. However, it is often seen in competitive or electoral authoritarian presidential systems such as Pinochet Chile before 1989, Venezuela, Syria, Guinea.

This amendment also alters one of the main principles regarding presidents, namely that they cannot lead a political party. Instead, they need to be impartial towards all political parties. With this change, presidents are no longer required to be neutral. They can be the chairman of a political party and lead this party’s parliamentary majority. Traditionally, Turkish parties are leader-oriented, and internal democracy is quite weak. The party leader decides who gets to be nominated.

As for the structure of the Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, which is responsible for overseeing the appointment, promotion, discipline, and dismissal of judges and public prosecutors, six of the thirteen members of the Council will be appointed by the president; the rest will be selected by the parliamentary majority. Since the president will be the head of a political party, he may lead the parliamentary majority. In the light of the current conditions in Turkish politics, the president is highly likely to control the parliamentary majority, which would make him indirectly involved in the selection process of the other members of the Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors.

The council selects the members of the High Court of Appeal (yargıtay) and three-quarters of the Council of State (the rest are appointed by the president). Their term of office is four years and they can be re-elected. The head of the council is the minister of Justice and his undersecretary is a permanent member. As pointed out above, the president also appoints a majority of the members of the Constitutional Court. In short, the President may shape all the high courts and the Council which control all the courts. This would potentially affect the independence of the courts from executive authority. Article 6 of the ECHR and Art. 38 of the current constitution state that there is the right to a fair trial, which includes being tried by an independent and impartial tribunal. Independence requires being free from the executive’s influence. The European Court of Human Rights uses four criteria to define independence; “the manner of appointment, term of office, existence of guarantees against outside pressures, and appearance of independence”. Under this amendment, none of these criteria are fulfilled. Without independent judiciary there is no fair trial for anyone and no rule of law. Furthermore, the manner in which the constitutional court judges are appointed by the president breaches a universal principle in law, whereby “no one can choose her judge” as the court is responsible for impeachment trials as well as examining decrees the president issues.

Overall, the reform package creates a very strong presidency without any checks and balances. It also supports the fact that in competitive authoritarian regimes presidents opt for new constitutions that consolidate their power, such as Venezuela (1999), Bolivia (2009), and Ecuador (2008). Currently, Turkey shows the signs of being a competitive authoritarian system. There is no free and fair competition among parties. It is a clientelistic and patronal system, which punishes the opposition (tax law, criminal law, etc) and rewards political loyalty by using state wealth and facilities. Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the co-leaders of HDP, the third largest party as well as many MPs of the same party are currently in jail; the main opposition, CHP, works under constant treats and some of its members are in jail too. Under the state of emergency the opposition faces especially tough constraints. Organising demonstrations and rallies are severely restricted.

Despite these facts, the AKP leaders still needs the support of MHP voter in the upcoming referendum according to the latest polls. If the right is unified, possibly with the help of a highly populist discourse, the reform package is likely to be accepted by the popular vote. However, “the no front” is getting ready for a tough struggle. It is going to be very tense three months in Turkish politics.

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.

Presidential or Not, Turkey Is a Competitive Authoritarian Regime

Turkey’s fragile democracy survived the recent coup attempt, but it may not survive the wrath of her defenders. After the most peculiar coup attempt in Turkish history by a fraction in the army on 15 July, a state of emergency has been declared. President Erdoğan accuses Fettullah Gülen of being the main perpetrator behind the coup attempt and believes his religious cult is purposely infiltrating government organisations and the judiciary in order to reshape and control the state. As a result there is a hunt for all Gülenists within all government institutions as well as private institutions having ties with him, such as media and business organisations.

Three newsagents, sixteen tv companies, twenty-three radio stations, forty-five newspapers, fifteen journals, twenty-nine publishing houses were shut down in one emergency decree. Overall 160 media outlets have been closed down. Also fifteen universities, more than 2000 educational institutions, and hospitals run by Gülenists were also closed down by emergency decrees.

Human rights guarantees in the Turkish Constitution and The European Convention on Human Rights have been suspended during the state of emergency. The government under the leadership of President Erdoğan issued several decrees removing over a hundred thousand civil servants, including not only military officers but also teachers, doctors, university deans, lecturers, ministerial staff. Also 2,747 judges and public prosecutors were detained and more than three thousand were suspended from duty including high court judges. None of the civil servants removed from their posts or private institutions shut down by emergency decrees has the right to sue government as those decrees are immune from law suits.

The fight against Gülenists includes also businessmen, who are detained and their property seized for aiding and abetting the terrorist organisation. Not to mention detained journalists and writers, including those who are accused of being members of Gülenist terrorist organisation and supporting the coup attempt and others who are accused of helping Gülenists without being a member. Their political beliefs and standings differ widely. Some support right wing beliefs including political Islam, but some of them are well known liberals such as Ahmet Altan, and his brother Mehmet Altan, or Kemalists like Atilla Taş. The government has been targeting not only Gülenists but also PKK, Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), secularists and leftists. Having declared a state of emergency, President Erdoğan has a free hand to tighten his grip over political life.

Many of civil servants who have been removed from their duties are accused of having links with Fettullah Gülen, but not all of them are Gülenists. Members of left wing unions have also been targeted. A total of 28 elected majors, the majority of whom are members of the pro-Kurdish HDP, have been removed from their posts and replaced by appointed substitutes by the government. No concrete proof is needed for removal even for judges. For instance, the Constitutional Court decided to remove the sitting judges from their posts based on “the belief” established by the majority vote that they have ties with Gülenists. Finally achieving his desire to have total control over judiciary, President Erdoğan also saw all high court judges bowing to him in his new palace at Beştepe recently. President Erdoğan made sure that no judge would stand up against his massive clear out.

After the coup attempt President Erdoğan invited his supporters onto streets for a month, organising political rallies named “democracy watch”. Ironically, members of other religious orders who also support political Islam and infiltrate government institutions like Gülenists played active roles in these street gatherings attacking Alevi’s (another sect of Islam), and secularists for supporting the coup despite the fact that the coup attempt was not supported by political parties, minorities or opposition groups. Opposing the government is almost presented as being treacherous. Mosques also played a major role supporting the government and inviting people hourly to defend Erdoğan and his party in the name of God and the Prophet Muhammed.

It is highly likely that if this coup attempt had been successful it would have caused a bloody internal conflict. The soldiers who attempted it fired the crowd in protest after the President Erdoğan’s call, bombed the Turkish Grand National Assembly, flew F16 fighter jets over Ankara, and killed many people. Such cruel acts of terror are the government’s main justificatory base. However, there are news reports alleging that the accused include leftists, Alevi’s and even atheists. With the legal guaranties of basic rights suspended, no one can be sure if the accused have been really involved in illegal activities or if they will have a fair trial. Many informants voluntarily denounce people for being involved Gülenist movement. Some of the accused people even fail to find lawyers to defend them in the criminal courts. Reports of torture and ill-treatment cases have been on the rise. Even though the state of emergency has been declared for three months, it would not be a surprise if it is extended for a much longer period.

The major question to be asked at this time is whether Turkish democracy has really survived this coup attempt. Is Turkey turning into a competitive authoritarian state? Having declared his will for a strong presidential system and having recently replaced his prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu with Binali Yıldırım, who was more willing to campaign for presidential system, President Erdoğan may no longer need a new constitution to create the type of presidential system that he longs for. The state of emergency under the current Constitution empowers the President by giving him the authority to lead the cabinet and issue emergency decrees having the force of law without the immediate approval of the legislative. Furthermore, guarantees of basic rights have been suspended under the state of emergency. With the Judiciary being completely out of the way after the post-coup reorganisations Erdoğan’s rule has no checks and balances and no political rival to voice their opposition.

In the light of the current political state, it is hard to call this regime a democracy anymore. The best way to describe it might be “competitive authoritarianism”. This concept has been defined by Levitsky and Way as “a hybrid regime type, with important characteristics of both democracy and authoritarianism” . In addition to the generally accepted four criteria that are famously described by R. Dahl as free and fair competitive elections, full adult suffrage, protection of civil and political liberties especially speech, press, association, absence of nonelected authorities such as military, monarchy that limit elected officials, Levitsky and Way offered an additional fifth criterion: the existence of a reasonably level playing field between incumbents and opposition. In competitive authoritarian regimes, elections may be free, but competition is hardly fair. Often incumbent parties violate basic rights, especially the freedom of speech, press and association. Most importantly there is no level playing field between a ruling party that excessively manipulates state institutions and resources and the opposition. Some of these manipulations are straight up violations of basic rights, but others are more subtle such as de facto control of private media and finances through informal patronage arrangements. Turkey fitted the picture even before the coup attempt.

Now, as an increasingly authoritarian president, Erdoğan has finally established his long-held dream of working without the constraint of the rule of law, and without any threat of losing power. The Turkish press is no longer considered free. Considerable elements of the media are controlled by Erdoğan, and the rest of them are fighting against daily criminal suits, detentions and even closures after the state of emergency has been declared. Free speech is heavily damaged. Opposition parties, especially the pro-Kurdish HDP, have already been under pressure. Many of their MPs’ legislative privileges, which constitutionally prevent criminal procedures without the assembly approval, have recently been lifted by a bizarre constitutional amendment before the coup attempt. All told, following the declaration of a state of emergency, Erdoğan has the opportunity to complete his aim of authoritarian rule.

Esra Çuhadar, Juliet Kaarbo, Baris Kesgin, Binnur Ozkececi-Taner – Do Personalities Change when Prime Ministers Become Presidents?

This is a guest post by Esra Çuhadar, Juliet Kaarbo, Baris Kesgin, Binnur Ozkececi-Taner. Research for this blogpost and the related research was supported by a TUBITAK Evrena grant (110K112) and a BAGEP award from the Science Academy.

Institutional perspectives in political science have been critical of personality theories, arguing that individuals’ behaviors can easily vary with different institutional incentives, constraints and opportunities, and role expectations. In opposition, personality approaches see individual characteristics as resilient and resisting change in case of situations and contexts. As this debate remains unresolved, in a recent study published in Political Psychology, we asked two questions: Do all political leaders change their personality characteristics when they occupy different institutional roles? And, which aspects of personalities are most likely to change across role positions? More specifically, we sought to understand what types of leaders would be most likely to change their expressed political personality when they came into a new political position. Our examination of three leaders who held different institutional roles in Turkish politics provided us with the opportunity for this theoretical investigation. We investigated and compared the personality profiles of three Turkish leaders—Suleyman Demirel, Abdullah Gul, and Turgut Ozal—and examined any changes in their leadership traits across roles. Each leader served as both prime minister and president –Gul was also minister of foreign affairs. Our study must be considered preliminary, and is suggestive of future research to develop our understanding of agents’ interactions with institutional structures.

Our study utilizes the Leadership Trait Analysis (LTA) framework.  As a prominent approach to the study of political leaders, LTA framework conceptualizes personality as a combination of seven traits: belief in an ability to control events, conceptual complexity, need for power, distrust of others, in-group bias, self-confidence, and task orientation. These seven traits combine in particular ways to produce specific behaviors by leaders. For example, leaders, who have a high belief in their ability to control events and a high need for power, are expected to challenge constraints; leaders low in need for power and/or who do not believe they can control events are expected to respect constraints. Conceptual complexity and self-confidence are related to and predict leaders’ openness to information. Leaders with high scores on both traits and leaders who have high complexity and low self-confidence are expected to be open to information, whereas leaders with low scores on both traits and leaders with high self-confidence and low complexity are expected to be closed to information. These two composite traits combine with a leader’s motivation for leading to produce a typology of eight different leadership styles, namely active independent, collegial, evangelical, directive, expansionist, incremental, influential, and opportunistic.

Taking advantage of the Turkish political context in which prime minister and presidency roles are defined very clearly and differently by the Turkish constitution, and in which our three selected leaders served in both of these roles, we used a quasi-experimental design to first construct these leaders’ personality profiles and then examine them comparatively across roles.  More specifically, we proposed that personality characteristics are more likely to change when certain types of leaders change roles.  More specifically, we expected the following:

  • Leaders who respect constraints (low in belief in ability to control events and low in need for power) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
  • Leaders open to information (high in complexity and high in self-confidence) are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.
  • Leaders with higher scores on complexity are more likely to change other traits when they change roles.

We also expected some personality characteristics are more likely to change when new roles carry with them specific expectations and responsibilities. For example, we suggested that

  • Task focus may be more likely to shift from goal-oriented to relationship oriented if the leader shifts to a less policy-focused position (e.g., from prime minister to president position).
  • In-group bias is likely to decrease when the leader shifts from a partisan role (e.g., prime minister elected from a political party) to a less partisan role (e.g., president).
  • Belief in ability to control events is likely to decline with a change from the prime minister to president role because prime ministers are considered the “doer” role, and presidents are more symbolic in parliamentary systems.

Our results support the expectation that leaders’ personalities can remain stable across different institutional roles. Personality characteristics for our leaders exhibited little change, when these leaders changed roles. We observed change in the same direction—all declined from prime minister to president profile—in three of the traits: belief in ability to control events, need for power, and task focus. However, in only one of these traits (task focus), we saw significant difference across roles. This finding has led us to conclude that personality is not directly determined by institutional incentives. We infer that this is expected by the changes in demands and expectations of the Turkish prime minister and president roles as articulated in the constitution. While the prime minister is a more active executive position emphasizing problem solving and policy implementation, the presidency is highlighted for its consensus building and above-politics status.

We also found that our leaders varied from one another, and from other world leaders.  In other words, while there is no single (Turkish) president or prime minister profile, there is no one Turkish leader profile either. This finding is important as it helps us to evaluate another theoretical suggestion: that certain types of leaders may be more likely to change traits when they change roles. Our assessment provided mixed support for this argument. The trait stability we observed in two of our leaders was consistent with their orientations to challenge constraints, but this did not hold for all leaders. There was no clear pattern for openness to information as a mediating variable and mixed support for complexity as we had hypothesized and self-confidence.

We encourage future research to take seriously the specific role demands associated with institutional positions and how leaders’ personalities interact with those demands. This would build on our study (published in the Journal of International Relations and Development) that examines Turkish leaders’ reactions to a variety of structural constraints.  A particularly promising avenue for future research would integrate work on role identities and their effects on personality traits. The relative potency of individual differences and institutional positions is an important question, worthy of further empirical exploration and theoretical development.

Esra Çuhadar is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration at Bilkent University in Turkey. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University during the 2011-2012 academic year. Dr. Cuhadar’s research interests include conflict resolution and political psychology. Her research has been published in academic journals such as Political Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, Negotiation Journal, International Negotiation, Journal of Peace Research, Mediterranean Politics, International Studies Perspectives, Turkish Studies and Perceptions and also in various book chapters. Dr Cuhadar received one of the Young Scientist Awards (BAGEP) by the Science Academy in Turkey and received research grants from USIP, Sabanci University, TUBITAK, and German Marshall Fund.

Juliet Kaarbo is Professor in Foreign Policy at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of Edinburgh’s Centre for Security Research.  Her research focuses on political psychology, leadership and decision making, group dynamics, foreign policy analysis and theory, parliamentary political systems, and national roles and has appeared in numerous journals including International Studies Quarterly, European Journal of International Relations, International Studies Review, Political Psychology, Cooperation and Conflict, International Interactions, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Leadership Quarterly.   Kaarbo’s books include Coalition Politics and Cabinet Decision Making:  A Comparative Analysis of Foreign Policy Choices University of Michigan Press 2012) and Domestic Role Contestation, Foreign Policy and International Relations (co-edited with Cristian Cantir; Routledge 2016).

Baris Kesgin is Assistant Professor Political Science at Susquehanna University. He specializes in foreign policy analysis and political leadership -more specially, of Israel and Turkey. His research appeared in Journal of International Relations and Development, International Studies Perspectives, Political Psychology, Perceptions, and Turkish Studies. 

Binnur Ozkececi-Taner is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Middle East Studies at Hamline University (St. Paul, MN, USA).  She received her Ph.D. from Syracuse University and also holds a degree in Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute.  In addition to her book that examines Turkish foreign policymaking in the 1990s, Ozkececi-Taner’s publications have appeared in journals including Political Psychology, Journal of International Relations and Development, Contemporary Security Policy, Foreign Policy Analysis, Mediterranean Politics, and Turkish Politics, as well as in books, most recently Political Psychology of Turkish Political Behaviour.

Erdoğan’s Long-Standing Struggle for a Turkish Type of Presidential System

Constitutionally Turkey is a semi-presidential country with a president whose constitutional powers are more than ceremonial but less than executive. Despite having few constitutional powers with which to check and balance the Council of Ministers, in reality President Erdoğan is an executive president who can control foreign and internal policy choices. Being the founder and the real leader of the ruling AKP, President Erdoğan has managed to compensate for what he lacks constitutionally by his de facto position. Despite the opposition’s reminders that according to the Constitution President Erdoğan should act impartially and that he has no legal powers to involve himself in day-to-day politics or to decide Turkish foreign policy, Erdoğan seems fully in control of his party and the government.

Yet President Erdoğan is still campaigning for a new presidential constitution. Since the AKP’s overwhelming win in the November general election that consolidated its predominant position in the system, Erdoğan has returned to his campaign for a so-called Turkish type of presidential system. This raises three questions. Firstly, why does the president insist on a constitutional change to a presidential system since he can already control every aspect of the government? Secondly, what is a Turkish type of presidential system? And is a new constitution going to come about in Turkey’s intensely polarised political climate?

The answers to the first question differ greatly depending on who is being asked. The president himself claims that a presidential system would stop the double-headedness within the executive which he often complains about despite the fact that he handpicked Prime Minister Davutoğlu. In a meeting with NGOs supporting his campaign, the President argued that an elected president cannot work with an elected Prime Minister, especially if they are from different political backgrounds. He thinks that a prime minister from a different background  might be elected in the future and that this would create tremendous discord within the government. For that reason, precautions should be taken against it now in the form of a new presidential constitution .

This should be an argument against all forms of semi-presidentialism, but President Erdoğan says that it is an argument against a parliamentary system. At one point he even talked of the “French Model” being a positive example, even though the French experience would seem to contradict his argument.

The second argument that the president uses is related to the first one. He claims that a presidential system would create “absolute stability” and prevent a “bureaucratic oligarchy” from implementing legislation and regulations. He says that Turkey needs restructuring, that laws and regulations would prevent it, so he has to be brave and set them aside .In order to completely restructure the system, Turkey must adopt presidential system which would bring absolute stability.

President also emphasises that it is not in favour of a separation of powers. He describes the system he defends as a Turkish type of presidentialism with a harmony of powers, rather than a system of checks and balances. He often complains that the current system is based on a conflict between the judiciary and government (meaning the executive and legislative majority). He argues that this system should be replaced by a system in which powers support each other. He perceives judicial review auto be an impediment, so often he refers to judicial review as being a problem that stems from a parliamentary system. Even though this is not an accurate, it illustrates what the president expects from or means by a Turkish type of presidential system.

In fact, any response given to the first question of why Erdoğan insists on a new presidential constitution also indirectly answers the second question of what Turkish type of presidential system he wants. Often opposition leaders or MPs express their fear that President Erdoğan wishes to become a super-president merging all state powers in a single office and eliminating any constitutional checks and balances as well as the alternation in power between political parties. For the opposition this is not a democratic model. All opposition parties oppose Erdoğan’s arguments for a presidential system and state that they are in favour of keeping alive the country’s parliamentary heritage, which goes back to 1908 albeit with certain changes to improve its efficiency as well as democracy and rule of law.

On the other hand, neither the AKP nor the President has so far produced a text showing the details of the system that they defend, except for the short text presented by the AKP to the former ad hoc parliamentary Commission of Constitutional Consensus which was dissolved in 2013 due to a failure to reach a consensus among participating political parties over the governmental system. This draft text gave strong legislative powers, like the power of decree, veto, initiating budget laws to the president and curbed judicial review. (See Şule Özsoy Boyunsuz, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies’, DOI 10.1080/14683849.2015.1135064.

A new Constitutional Consensus Commission was formed a month ago in parliament under the chairmanship of the Speaker. It comprises three members from each of the four parliamentary groups and has been charged with penning a new constitution. After three meetings in February 2016 this ad hoc commission was dissolved by the speaker due to the disagreements over the presidential system, just like the previous constitutional consensus commission which was formed for the same purpose in 2011 and which was dissolved in 2013. The CHP, the main opposition party, declared that they will not discuss a presidential system as a viable alternative. The HDP and MHP, the other two opposition parties, refuse to form another commission without the participation of the CHP. So the answer to the question of how it is going to be possible to make a new constitution altering the regime remains largely unknown.

President Erdoğan announced that a new presidential constitution will be produced even if opposition parties do not sit in the Constitutional Consensus Commission and that it will then be submitted to a referendum for the public approval. However, This would require at least 14 votes in parliament from the opposition. That would mean fishing for opposition votes using any kind of methods or calling for an early election, which would be another way of changing the composition of parliament albeit one that runs the risk of losing more seats too.

Aside from legal and technical issues related to amending or making a new constitution, changing to a presidential system is a politically divisive topic in today’s highly polarised Turkish society. There is a climate of ongoing conflict between the PKK ( Kurdish separatist terrorist organisation) and the security forces in certain South Eastern cities that has claimed many lives on both sides and this is on top of the government’s increasing involvement in the Syrian war. The co-chair of the pro-Kurdish HDP, Yüksekdağ, has accused President Erdoğan of “opening the door to a very big war and chaos in the region (Syria) in order to become an executive president by becoming chief commander through a declaration of mobilization and martial law” . Indeed, when Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane on the Syrian border, the polls showed the highest public support (53.5%) for presidential system. Yet it remains to be seen if the war will help the President realise his dream of a presidential constitution.

Turkey – After a period of violence and threats of political instability Erdoğan’s party wins back its dominant position in the parliament

Turkish voters went to the polls once again on the first of November, only six months after the June 7 general election. Eventually, 49 per cent voted for the ruling AKP, thus reinstating the AKP’s single party rule and its dominant status once again. The main opposition party, CHP, sustained its votes, whereas the nationalist MHP and the pro-Kurdish HDP saw a decline in their support even though they passed the ten per cent national threshold. This result came as a surprise for many as even the pro-government polls failed to predict such a strong result for the AKP.

The AKP’s nine percent gain came after a period of increasing political violence, threats of instability, and authoritarian pressures over free press and atmosphere of fear. After losing their parliamentary majority in the June election – which was turned into an informal referendum for a presidential system by the President – the AKP continued to govern the country. Parliament stayed closed and opposition parties failed to come together to form a legislative or executive coalition. Meanwhile, President Erdoğan continued exercising de facto powers despite the fact that his recent aggressive campaign for a type of hyper-presidential system failed.

The rising star of the June 2015 election was Selahattin Demirtaş the leader of the HDP pro-Kurdish party, who famously declared that his party would not allow Erdoğan to form a presidential system. He led his party to crossing the ten per cent national threshold for the first time, and thus prevented President Erdoğan and his party from realising their goal of a presidential system by simply taking their fair share of parliamentary seats. As votes for parties which are unable to pass the electoral threshold are assigned to the biggest party, giving them a significant overrepresentation under the Turkish D’Hondt system, votes for the HDP in previous elections often translated into an increased seat share for the AKP.

Four parties entered parliament following the June 7 elections: the AKP, CHP, MHP and HDP. However, none of them had a clear single majority. In a highly polarised political climate this meant stalemate. Prime Minister Davutoğlu, the new “official” leader of the AKP was given the mandate to form the government but returned it unsuccessfully to President Erdoğan. The president also made it clear that he was in favour of a snap election rather than forming a coalition.

The six months period in which Turkey first discussed coalition formation, and later the possibility of snap election, coincided with the end of peace talks and a ceasefire agreement between government forces and the PKK. Bloody clashes between the PKK and security forces took place in civilian occupied town centres as well as mountains resulting in heavy civilian, military and PKK losses. Furthermore ISIL suicide bombers attacked two different political demonstrations in Suruç and Ankara, killing 136 people.

It was not only the increasing threat of political violence that contributed to the political instability of the country. Within this climate fears of economic crisis have been rising together with threat of political instability. In addition, there were attacks on newspapers and journalists opposed to a government run solely by the AKP members and MPs. Some of the opposing newspapers and TV channels have been seized, sparking reactions from journalists all over the world. Many of the TV channels’ and newspapers’ coverage have been pro-government and opposition parties were unsuccessful in voicing their opinion in a free, equal or fair election atmosphere.

The AKP’s election strategy was formed on the idea of stability. Single party rule against coalition governments, peace against violence, economic growth against economic crisis -propagating that coalition meant instability, political violence and economic crisis.
Furthermore, President Erdoğan was overall less visible as part of AKP campaigns and plans for the introduction of a presidential system were not mentioned this time around. This campaign strategy seemed to have worked well as the AKP regained the votes that it lost six months ago. It has been claimed that Erdoğan new strategy after June 7 election was reinstituting single party rule by the AKP which would enable his de facto presidential rule. In other words, a type of semi-presidential system without being forced to cohabit.

Meanwhile the HDP and its rising star Selahattin Demirtaş could not campaign after the Suruç and Ankara bombings which mainly targeted the party and its supporters. Campaign events had to be cancelled in fear of more violence. The CHP partly followed the same path and decided not to lead an aggressive campaign. The pro-nationalist MHP and its leader Bahçeli, who blocked any possibility for a coalition with the AKP or opposition after the June election, led an unsuccessful campaign trying to explain why he refused to form a coalition. In the end, the MHP lost more than 4 per cent of its votes to the AKP.

With this result Turkey’s chances for re-establishing a parliamentary system are significantly slimmer. President Erdoğan now has a free hand to control executive, legislative and judicial powers, resulting in a strong form of semi-presidentialism. There is no doubt that he will increase the pressure on the political opposition, free press or any force that opposes his neo-patrimonial rule. It is also highly likely that he will seek to change the constitution – even though his party lacks the necessary three-fifths majority with a referendum – to establish a so called “Turkish Type” of presidentialism.

Turkey – The failure to form a coalition results in a snap election

At the parliamentary election on 7 June Turkish voters ended the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 13-year single-party rule. However, the election did not return a clear majority. On the 10 July President Erdoğan gave the leader of the AKP, Ahmet Davutoğlu, as Prime Minister with the responsibility for forming a coalition government. If no government was formed within 45 days, then President Erdoğan could call a second election.

Prime Minister Davutoğlu met with the other three party leaders several times but without success, even though certain circles within the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which is the second biggest party in the new parliament, and the AKP were said to be eager to form a coalition. At the end of the talks a senior CHP official claimed that the AKP did not want to form a government for four years but only a short-term coalition, while the CHP had pressed for a four-year reform government.

President Erdogan was careful to be seen as an active and influential actor. During the talks between the CHP and the AKP, the President warned that it would be suicidal to enter a coalition if the views of “one side” do not match with the principles of the other, implying that a secularist left wing CHP would not be a good coalition partner for the conservative Islamist AKP.

Less than a week before the end of the constitutional time limit of 45 days, President Erdoğan announced that there would be a snap election on the first of November and that there would be an interim government in the meantime. President Erdoğan refused to hand the duty to form a government to the Peoples’ Republican Party (CHP) or any other party with seats in the parliament, saying that there was no possibility left for a coalition government. President Erdoğan also replied to opposition’s criticism of his decision by saying that he would not hand the power to form a government to the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroglu, since he had insulted the president and refused to recognise his newly built 615 million dollar palace (symbol of his power and desire to change governmental system into a presidential one) as the presidential palace.

Some critics believe that Erdoğan blocked any possibility of a coalition
in order to push for a presidential system. Despite the fact that a majority of Turkish electors failed to endorse the idea in the last election, Erdoğan said in a public speech in his hometown of Rize on August 14 that the Turkish system has been changed into a de facto presidential one since he was elected by a public vote. The President claims that he has de facto powers and there is a need for a new constitution that enhances presidential powers and brings them into line with his de facto position. Even though he has been elected by public vote, the 1982 Turkish Constitution, which was originally parliamentary, does not bestow strong executive powers on the president, only a few powers checking and balancing the cabinet.

In the meantime President Erdoğan announced the end of a two year cease fire between security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party, PKK, and negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government. The country has entered into a phase where the civilian death toll is rising every day. Over the summer 220 politicians from pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) were arrested. Opponents have accused Erdoğan of attacking the PKK in a bid to win nationalist support and discredit the pro-Kurdish party, whose gains in the June elections deprived the ruling party of its majority.

In an environment where political violence and economic uncertainty are becoming a realit, President Erdoğan seems to want to hold on to his desire for a presidential system hoping that snap elections will produce enough seats for the AKP not only to form a single-party government, but also with a two-thirds majority that will allow him to change the constitution. He and his close allies blamed electors not switching to a presidential system and for the increasingly chaotic situation in the country after the June election.

With two months to go before the November election, the polls do not suggest a dramatic rise in support for the AKP since June election, meaning that there is no single-party government on the horizon. It seems that current constitutional structure does not suit the president, especially in the context of a possible coalition government. So much so indeed that he is willing to gamble not only his political career but also the country’s peace and well-being.

Turkey – Coalition Talks Start As Political Uncertainty Continues

The June 7 general elections ended the ruling AKP’s 13 years of single party rule and created a difficult situation in the parliament. As before, there are four parties in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), but the composition has changed dramatically (the AKP now has 258 seats, CHP 139, MHP 80, and HDP 80 of the total 550 seats). Even though the ruling AKP lost its majority, it remains the largest party and still has the capacity to rule in any future coalition. According to the Constitution any government has to attain the support of the absolute majority of the votes cast in order to survive the investiture vote. Without the AKP joining the coalition all  three remaining parties would have to come together to form a majority coalition.

It became evident shortly after the election that the three remaining parties – the social democratic CHP, the nationalist MHP, and pro-Kurdish leftist HDP – would not be able to form a coalition together, as the nationalist MHP’s leader Bahçeli declared that they would not support any coalition in which the pro-Kurdish HDP participated. That declaration meant that the AKP has to be the formateur of any future coalition.

The nationalist MHP maintained the same position during the election of the speaker of the TGNA, declaring that they would not vote for a candidate that HDP members supported. Arithmetically speaking, this meant supporting the AKP’s candidate, İsmet Yılmaz, since the Constitution requires a simple majority at the fourth and final round of voting. Here, the two candidates with the most votes at the third round stand against each other. In the end İsmet Yılmaz was elected at the fourth round when MHP members voted blank instead of supporting the CHP candidate, Deniz Baykal.

For many, this was an indication of a future coalition between the AKP and MHP. Such a coalition might be right one for President Erdoğan as he says his wish is “that a new government will be formed in line with the sensitivities of conditions for Turkey today.” The sensitive condition that he is referring to might be the Syrian crisis on which the AKP has very similar views to the MHP, especially with respect to establishing a safe zone on the Syrian board.

Such a right-wing conservative partnership would also be the easiest for electors of both parties to accept. Beşir Atalay, one of closest comrades of President Erdoğan, confirmed that the AKP’s supporters also want a coalition with the MHP.

However, the biggest problem facing an AKP coalition with MHP or indeed with any of the  three remaining parties is President Erdoğan. All the opposition parties demanded that the President should act impartially towards all parties and that he should not involve himself in daily politics in accordance with the Constitution. In response, the leader of the AKP, Prime Minister Davutoğlu, ruled out any negotiations regarding the role of the presidency.
Furthermore, opposition parties promised their electors that the corruption and graft claims regarding President Erdoğan, his son, Bilal Erdoğan, and three former AKP ministers among others that were revealed on December 17 and 25, 2013, would be taken to court. This does not seem likely. President Erdoğan responded to such demands by saying, “Today Turkey needs a coalition government that asserts its will for the solution of current problems and for building the future, instead of debating its past”, indicating that coalition talks would fail if past political debates including corruption allegations were brought up again.

There are 45 days to form a coalition. If there is no coalition at the end of that time or no chance of one being formed, President Erdoğan can call a snap election. The first day of the 45 days started on 9 July, 2015.

President Erdoğan commissioned the leader of the AKP, Davutoğlu, to form a coalition on that day. Davutoğlu will resume talks with CHP, MHP and HDP respectively on 13, 14 and 15 of July. Even though Davutoğlu has scheduled meetings with all three parties, he says their focus will be on either the CHP or MHP.

As for President Erdoğan’s future political position, there is no indication that he will resume a passive role. He is currently supervising the coalition formation process, and has warned all parties that a minority government should not be an option and that they have to either successfully form a coalition in time or face a snap election.