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May 15, 2012, Tuesday

Is a semi-presidential system on the horizon?

Columnists may sometimes brag among themselves, saying “I told you that.” This is something I avoid. But today I am going to do it, and say “I told you.” Three months ago, on Feb. 10, 2012, in my column, “MIT, judiciary and new constitution,” I wrote: “Now let us discuss the most important issue that has gone unnoticed.

The people will elect the new president; this is a first in the history of the Turkish republic. The president whom the people elect will be in a better position to make decisions in the presidential palace. Is this being considered in the studies being conducted into the making of a new constitution? Personally, I haven’t heard of such discussions taking place. However, this issue should be resolved immediately because the powers and duties of the president elected and empowered by the people should be identified first. This is so important that the following three crucial questions need to be answered in the constitution. Will the system be parliamentary? Will it be semi-presidential? Or will it be a presidential system?

If we are planning to maintain the parliamentary system and make it stronger, then there will be problems with a president who has the same powers and authority. Under the current Constitution, the president is empowered to preside over the Cabinet or summon the Cabinet for a meeting under his chairmanship if needed. What will happen if a president elected by the public opts to use this power for every Cabinet meeting? If a presidential or semi-presidential system is called for under the new constitution, then this must be seriously debated.”

Neither the opposition nor the ruling party has addressed this discussion that I raised three months ago. Everyone has been discussing this matter since the prime minister called for such discussions last week. Is this not weird? Nobody seems to care about something important that is relevant to the rule of this country; the relevant parties are working on the making of a new constitution, but no one has raised any serious discussion as to whether the political system in the new constitution should be presidential, parliamentary or semi-presidential. This is a discussion that is being made in an untimely manner.

Should we have a discussion for no reason? Or is this a motion to amend the civilian constitution really about changing the parliamentary system? Honestly, I did not get it. In fact, the current system is in effect a semi-presidential system. However, in this setting, the prime minister acts as president. In the present framework, the prime minister holds powers and authorities that are greater and more extensive than those held by a president in a semi-presidential system. And when the prime minister runs for presidency, these powers will be taken to the presidential palace. In other words, the election of the president by popular vote and particularly the election of current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as the first president elected by the people will make the present setting constitutional. From this perspective, in case a few additional powers are recognized to the president in the constitution, Turkey will automatically move to a semi-presidential system. Will this be good or bad? This public should be asked what they think. And the new constitution will be subjected to approval of the people in a referendum anyway.

I personally favor a truly democratic system that does not tie the hands of the executive organ and block the rise of Turkey as a global power. There are good examples of parliamentary, presidential and semi-presidential systems in the world. The success of a political system depends on a number of factors. What is really important is the internalization of a democratic culture and the prevention of coups attempts and other similar attempts at interference.

We turn every discussion in politics into a matter of polarization. What we call white is being called black by others. The stubbornness to oppose others rather than finding the truth has become our main political character. If we could approach the matters and issues through a culture of consensus rather than conflict and disagreement, we could minimize the problems by offering plausible solutions to even the toughest controversies.

The problem starts with the man and ends with the man. It is not easy to cease getting caught up in expectations. If we ensure that the mentality based on sharing takes reign and if we could act democratically, common sense will always help us find the proper solution.

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