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February 01, 2013, Friday

Presidential system on the horizon

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has finally announced his Plan B. In a recent speech at a party group meeting at the Parliament, he for the first time referred to a timeline for writing the country's new constitution. In case consensus is not reached in Parliament, he said his own Justice and Development Party (AK Party) would go on with their own draft constitution. He further stated: “Our hope is that this mission is accomplished by the end of March.

If not, the AK Party's draft will be referred to the Parliament. At the moment we attract the support we desire in Parliament, we will bring this to the agenda. And when we meet the requirements for a referendum, we will take this matter to the people for a vote.”

It is obvious that opposition parties would raise objections to the presidential system and the AK Party play its role as an ardent supporter. In a program hosted by Yiğit Bulut on Kanal 24 TV on Friday, the prime minister said that his party would insert their proposal on the presidential system into their draft of the constitution and refer it to Parliament. The prime minister's remarks on the program are indicative of his decisiveness on this matter. Why is Erdoğan rushing to the presidential system? He is rushing because the presidential election will be held on Aug. 14, 2014. There will most probably be a referendum process before the election, as well.

Prime Minister Erdoğan believes that the presidential system will strengthen the country's parliamentary democracy. He notes that they do not want an unchecked presidential system and that a more effective system of checks and balances would be established. Erdoğan also targeted the entrenched bureaucracy: “Currently, bureaucrats are the ones who examine legislation. They also oversee the execution [of legislation]. The situation creates difficulties for us. These appointed figures regulate us, which is not a proper mechanism [for checks and balances]. It is like they are vying to create obstacles for us. I want to do my job, but I'm encountering these obstacles.”

It is easy to predict that there will be further excitement in the efforts to rewrite the constitution. The parliamentary drafting commission continues its work on the section concerning fundamental rights and freedoms. The second drafting commission will begin writing a draft of the section on social and economic rights. Even if the problems relevant to this part of the process are overcome, it is certain that there will be deadlock over the proposals for the presidential system. The agenda will move again to this subject when the AK Party announces its proposal on presidential system. For instance, the Prime Minister says that Turkey has something to learn from other countries governed by the presidential system, and by doing so they would be able to attain a Turkish-style presidential system. It is a matter of curiosity as to what a presidential system peculiar to us would be.

Now we have two months ahead of us. In other words, the AK Party will seize the initiative starting on the first day of April. The İmralı process that has begun to eliminate terrorism and violence, through negotiations between the country's largest terrorist group and the government, will be accompanied by discussions on the presidential system. The peace that will result from the successful conclusion of these talks will strengthen the position of Prime Minister Erdoğan and in this way, he could gain the support necessary in Parliament to take the presidential system to a referendum.

As is known, in order to bring constitutional amendments to a referendum, the support of 330 to 367 deputies is needed. At this stage, the breakdown in Parliament is as follows: AK Party, 326; Republican People's Party (CHP), 134; National Movement Party (MHP), 52; Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), 29; and independents, 7.

The parliament speaker is not allowed to cast a vote; this means that the AK Party needs the support of five additional deputies. If the İmralı process concludes with peace, the BDP may extend this crucial support.

In this case, a referendum is on the horizon. Another reason Erdoğan is asking for the referendum is his eagerness to attract greater popular support before the presidential elections. If the AK Party becomes successful in its plans and ambitions, there is a presidential system on the horizon. 2013 will be an important year.

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