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May 11, 2012, Friday

Presidential system: Turkey’s oldest yet most fruitless topic

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and, most recently, Council of State President Hüseyin Karakullukçu have voiced their support for a switch to the presidential system, which has been a source of great debate in Turkey for a long time. “The system has many advantages, including political stability and a positive impact on the economy, and it provides for a successful separation of powers,” he had said. However, many columnists are not hopeful about such a switch, arguing that although it is one of Turkey’s most debated issues, there must be a reason that a final decision cannot be reached.

Mehmet Barlas from the Sabah daily says, after hearing Karakullukçu’s statement, he thought that Sakallı Celal’s (Bearded Celal) dream finally came true. Sakallı Celal, whose real name is Celal Yalınız, was a philosopher known for his wise saying: “We have declared Constitutionalism, yet it did not work; we have declared a republic, and it did not work either; I suggest we declare seriousness for once and see how that works out.” Barlas says since former President Turgut Özal’s time, we have been discussing the adoption of a presidential system, yet no one has ever come out and explained what difference it will make, and whether or not now, during the creation of a new constitution, is a good time to make this change. Barlas says Karakullukçu was the first to show this seriousness and provide a sensible explanation about the issue.

“Erdoğan keeps suggesting that a presidential system should be discussed. No one will ever say we should not. But there must be a reason why no solid result has ever come from previous discussions,” says Bugün’s Gülay Göktürk. If we try to put pros and cons for both of the presidential and parliamentary systems, neither one dominates the other. Both have their own weaknesses and advantages, and for this reason, when Erdoğan first suggested the presidential system in 2011, we saw that President Abdullah Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç were opposed to the suggestion. The columnist says “not being able to put together a majority supporting the suggestion in the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] must be the reason why this issue has not reached a conclusion every time it has been brought up.” “It was the same with Özal’s period,” she adds. Göktürk suggests that a presidential system is not supported by the majority of politicians; it would be wiser to reform the current system rather than take a big risk by resetting the whole system. “Because I am concerned that once we switch to a presidential system, our end will be like that of the unsuccessful practices in Latin American countries, unlike the successful practice of the US. I also have other concerns such as the fact that the psychology of our society is not ready for such a change,” she notes.

Vatan’s Okay Gönensin points to probable confusion that would ensue in the event of adopting a presidential system, as we have seen in the US and France, due to the fact that the composition of Congress and Parliament changes due to elections, which could mean that the president may have to work with a Congress or Parliament in which he only has minority support. He gives the example of former French socialist President François Mitterrand, who had to work with a parliament whose majority were rightists. The French would often use the term of coexistence when trying to overcome the two-headed state of their administration. But both the US and France are countries that have overcome “the culture of conflict.”  It is a fact that when the AK Party’s leader Erdoğan becomes president, his party will be weakened without him. And Erdoğan is not a man to successfully handle working with a parliament full of opponents, he says.

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