The emergence of such a debate out of sheer curiosity as to who removed the barricade cannot be explained by anything other than accumulated tension in the Turkish political scene.
While the sides to the debate seem to be Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül, we need to look beyond individuals for the solution.
The heart of the matter is the presidential elections slated for 2014, when the president will be elected directly by the public. I have previously written about this matter. A president, elected directly by at least 51 percent of voters, will start to reside at the Çankaya presidential palace. Thus, we will have a powerful president who derives his legitimacy directly from the public. And it is not very likely that the ruling party would secure a comparable percentage in general elections. The worst case scenario would be a coalition government. In other words, presidents will secure greater electoral support than prime ministers. If the current system continues without change, the relationship between the Prime Ministry and the Presidency will start to be more problematic after 2014.
The problem is not about whether Erdoğan will become president. Let me repeat: We should discuss the matter without reference to particular people. And we currently have a major opportunity to do this, which is the drafting of a new, civilian and democratic constitution.
The powers and duties of the president need to be defined. Given the fact that new presidents will be more powerful when they are directly elected by the public, isn’t it obvious that we should reformat our regime as a presidential or semi-presidential system? Will Parliament lend sufficient support to such a change? If it won’t, can we find a middle-of-the-road formula for the new position of president?
Suppose it becomes clear that there won’t be sufficient support for constitutional amendments for a presidential or semi-presidential system. Suppose further that everyone comes to accept the need to maintain the current status. Then the matter will become truly personal.
Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to office in the first election it entered after its establishment and managed to boost its votes in every election that followed, clinching its hold on power. If Erdoğan chooses to run for president, will any other candidate from the AK Party have any chance? Who will become prime minister after Erdoğan is elected president? In the TV programs on which he has appeared, Erdoğan categorically noted that after Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel became president, their parties grew very weak. An AK Party not chaired by Erdoğan will lose its luster. In the current setting, it would be impossible for Erdoğan to continue to administer the party from the presidential palace. No one can guarantee that the fate of the AK Party would not be like that of the Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) and the True Path Party (DYP) in such a case. And a weakened AK Party would be a fatal blow to Turkey’s stability.
I am inclined to say “yes” to Erdoğan’s proposal to allow presidents to retain their party affiliations. In response to the criticism that in such a situation Turkey would inch toward a dictatorship, I would like to note that this system should be discussed as a whole, within the context of the new constitution drafting process. Thus, the Law on Political Parties should be made more democratic, local administrations should be reinforced and the election threshold should be lowered to 3 percent; furthermore, a certain number of deputies should represent the whole country, and deputies’ representativeness should be strengthened with the introduction of the single-member constituency electoral system.
In addition, the separation of powers should be made more pronounced, and judicial independence should be achieved. I believe a system allowing presidents to retain their party affiliations would put an end to double-headed government debates and give Turkey much-needed administrative capability.