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January 02, 2013, Wednesday

Presidential system, not Constitution, on agenda

A recent TV statement by the prime minister about the presidential system was crystal clear. Like some of us, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) knew right from the beginning that the representatives of the four parliamentary parties at the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission would be unable to reach an agreement on several controversial but vital topics.

Since April 22, 2010, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kicked off the campaign to promote his presidential system of government, the issue has slowly been brought to the agenda by party executives. When this prelude drew reactions, they kept silent for a while, but Erdoğan's dream of becoming the first president of a presidential system was never forgotten. When the fate of the constitutional drafting process became clear, the ruling party came out with its presidential proposal. Now, the proposal overshadows the already failing drafting process.

The blame is laid on the parties who cannot agree, as much as on the ruling party, which harmed the drafting process with its obsession with the presidential system. Indeed, unlike what the prime minister claims, this nation has never drafted its constitution on its own. This is the first time we are trying to find ways to live together without killing each other. Ample time should be given to this process and it should not be sacrificed to the prime minister's insistence on getting “unrestricted powers for the service of society.”

The prime minister and his close associates have made a number of arguments in support of a change to a presidential system. They say that a presidential system would ensure greater stability, and that “the principle of the separation of powers is obstructive to the service of the nation” but also that “it is the system in which this principle functions best” and finally that “a directly elected president has to be executive.”

Let us revisit these arguments in light of the ruling party's deeds and its proposal of the “Duties and Powers of the President” submitted to the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission.

First and foremost, looking for stability through the presidential system is undemocratic. Essentially, the emphasis on stability overlaps with the argument that the separation of powers impedes efficient services. Politics do not consist solely of serving the nation; the separation of powers and their relative strengths are sine qua non requirements for democracy. Indeed, the problem is not about the executive lacking sufficient power to ensure stability. The problem is the lack of a democratic constitution that would guarantee the independence of the executive from the tutelage of elected officials (especially the military) and, at the same time, check and balance it with a powerful legislature, judiciary and newly established administrative regions.

The AK Party claims that the solution is the presidential system. Yet, for the last 10 years, it has failed to care for the independence of the legislature and judiciary. It hasn't taken any steps to reinforce fair representation of political parties, which are the building blocks of a parliamentary system. The most unfair election threshold is firmly in place. A single-round electoral system ensures big parties grow bigger and small ones become smaller. Parties can still be easily closed down by the Constitutional Court. Intraparty democracy is in tatters and deputies are like automatons who pay allegiance to single men.

While they may be serious about the argument that the principle of the separation of powers functions most smoothly in a presidential system, the proposal does not provide for the powers of the president to be regulated, checked or balanced by any other power or institution. The “federal balance” that some pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members are hoping for is nowhere in the proposal. The only checks and balances foreseen are technical committees consisting of bureaucrats and lobbying companies.

And, finally, in Austria, the directly elected president does not have executive power.

The prime minister's resolute march toward total power will dominate 2013. Have a good year despite this hazardous drive.

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