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July 17, 2012, Tuesday

HAS Party merger and beyond

Upon a call from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a large number of politicians from the Voice of the People Party (HAS Party), including their leader, Numan Kurtulmuş, appear to have joined the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). What does this mean? This move is generally evaluated from two major perspectives: the presidential election to be held in August 2014 and the future of the AK Party.

I would like to draw attention to one significant point. A constitutional reform will be made before the presidential election. Central to the new constitution will be reforms to the characteristics, duties and authority of the president, who will be elected by popular vote for the first time.

As you may already know, the prime minister has made two important statements on this matter. Let me start with the second. Three days ago, he announced in Eskişehir that he will run to be elected chairman for the last time in the regular convention on Sept. 30. This could be taken as an indirect announcement of his candidature for the presidential election in 2014. As a successful politician who has dominated the political stage over the last decade and received 50 percent of the vote in the last election, he is entitled to this.

But what really matters is Erdoğan’s statement made on a TV program on June 6 proposing the bestowal of executive powers on the president, and his comment that the popularly elected president should not be detached from his party. In an attempt to justify the proposal, he said: “I see what [Turgut] Özal and [Süleyman] Demirel experienced as presidents; they held symbolic powers there. Özal was under threat; he considered founding a new party. Now we have a president elected by the people, not by parliament. A president who holds greater power out of popular support puts an end to division of powers.”

If the prime minister’s proposal is enshrined in the Constitution and further endorsed by the people, Erdoğan and future chairmen of the AK Party will be in a different position. This means that the AK Party chairman will not be prime minister at the same time. An executive president will chair the committee of ministers. As a minister, the prime minister will serve as coordinator for other ministers. The chairman will assume a role by which he ensures the preservation of presidential control over the party.

The prime minister makes these proposals for better and more effective governance, as well as for the future of the AK Party. For this reason, the merger with the HAS Party should be considered from a broader perspective. It is a wise move to introduce a strong executive president and to embrace reliable and dignified political figures. But as I said, will these amendments be inserted in the new constitution and further endorsed by the people in the referendum?

Regardless of whether the prime minister has good intentions, the opponents of the AK Party will see these moves as attempted steps towards civilian guardianship. Maybe the objections from the opposition parties could be disregarded, given that they have always opposed everything the ruling party has done. However, growing concerns held by the vast majority of citizens, and calls for further democratization from liberal circles, should also be taken into consideration.

The AK Party’s rule has been particularly consolidated by the expansion of freedoms and the steps to further democratize Turkey. Erdoğan and his friends read the process of change correctly, and they have stayed firm against tutelage. This is the gist of the matter, and if this is not understood, everybody will lose.

We need constructive solutions that will address concerns. Will this strong executive president be controlled or checked by Parliament? How will this happen? Will the deputies become members of Parliament elected by the people, able to check the president? Will the electoral threshold be lowered? Will intraparty democracy be achieved? Will checks and balances between executive, legislative and judicial branches be maintained?

I think that Erdoğan’s era of mastery is just starting. Turkey will either have new legislative, executive and judicial branches or it will lose power and strength under the pressure of foreign policy.

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