During that time, when stability could not be maintained and a strong government could not be formed within the current parliamentary structure, political solutions failed to address the Kurdish problem, religion-state relations and problems based on military-civilian relations. Tutelary structures constructed by the Constitution drafted in 1982 after the coup d’état of 1980 made it impossible to solve these problems, which needed radical solutions, within the parliamentary system. It was impossible to speak of credible politics and a respectable parliamentary system that represents the will of the public when tutelary institutions were paralyzing democratically elected institutions.
Since the Turkish parliamentary system always failed to solve critical problems, people looked at other systems, whether it was the presidential system in the US or the semi-presidential system in France, with envy. The idea of replacing the sluggish parliamentary system that could not perform its functions thoroughly with a presidential or semi-presidential system with the capacity to make decisions quickly, function and produce solutions was an appealing alternative. The politicians, who were at the time constantly fighting against the various obstructive roles of tutelary structures, saw switching to a presidential or semi-presidential system as a solution, especially at times when the system was in a bottleneck. They were right. It was extremely reasonable and appealing to demand and discuss a radical system change as a quick fix to Turkey’s gangrenous problems in the 1980s and 1990s.
But is the presidential or semi-presidential system, which was presented as a reasonable and appealing formula back then, still reasonable and appealing today? I don’t think it is. That is because Turkey’s political system changed a great deal at the beginning of the millennium and it continues to change. Parliament is no longer impotent like it was in the 1990s and the political institution is no longer an institution that is discredited and denigrated by groups collaborating with tutelary structures. Parliament’s influence increased as political reforms and EU harmonization laws were implemented and, as the power of tutelary structures declined, trust and respect toward politics increased. The efforts to discredit democratically elected politicians became ineffective as people’s welfare improved, their educational level increased, monopolistic structures collapsed and relative pluralism emerged in the media with intellectual circles. Every attempt seeking to suppress and discredit Parliament after the early 2000s, especially 2007, after short fluctuations, ended up increasing the credibility of politics and Parliament.
Now in 2011, we have a Parliament that can address Turkey’s deep-rooted problems and pave the way to solving issues according to public demands and needs. Of course our Parliament and parliamentarians are still behind where they should be with respect to legislative and oversight powers, but the trend is towards a better and more perfect parliamentary system. The parliamentary system is more respectable now than it has ever been in the history of the Turkish Republic and it is giving legitimacy to policies that are being observed. In line with this, the reputation of civilian political institutions and politicians has started to increase as well. The people have started to expect politics, not the army or the tutelary institutions under its shadow, to solve problems. I don’t think I need to explain how important this is for the sake of improving democracy even further in Turkey.
Even though political parties who pledge to draft a new constitution at the very beginning of their election manifestos don’t share any information on what the new constitution will look like or entail during their intense election campaigns, everyone knows that if the arithmetic in Parliament works out, all of us will be debating a new constitution as of June 13.
The very fact that a new constitution is going to be drafted by civilians is very important and valuable, regardless of its content, but there is one risk that should be mentioned. Even though nothing is official, the inclusion of several legal professional and political scientists who have expertise on the political system in the deputy candidate list of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), creates doubt that Prime Minister Erdoğan wants to shift to a presidential system. The concern that there will be confusion over authority when the president is elected by popular vote for the first time in the next presidential elections also strengthens this doubt.
But at this point, instead of debating whether we should have a parliamentary system or a presidential system Turkey needs to improve the standards of democracy, the laws, and individual rights and freedoms. It can easily do this within the current parliamentary system by continuing to improve the system’s democratic standards. The new constitution we hope for is an important opportunity for this as well. Abandoning the parliamentary system, which has just started to function effectively after close to one century, and switching to a presidential or semi-presidential system, which we do not know the outcome of, will give birth to the risk of destroying everything we have gained.
It is for this reason the strong warning in the eighth item of the 10-item declaration adopted unanimously by the participants of the “New Term, New Constitution” conference organized last week by the Abant Platform, a sub-organization of the Journalists and Writers Association (GYV) is very important. I would like to share that item, which reflects the views of close to 100 respected intellectuals who represent Turkey’s intellectual wealth: “Basic rights and freedom should be the central focus of the new constitution process. Debates on the government system (presidential system, semi-presidential system, parliamentary regime), should not overshadow or postpone basic problems that need to be solved by the new constitution.”