Turkey has been discussing the possibility of changing its parliamentary form of government to a presidential system since prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested last week while in Slovenia that the option should be considered.
In his first comments on the recently revived debate over Turkey’s possible switch to a presidential system, President Abdullah Gül said the issue can be discussed, but any discussion should be through serious analysis. Gül said in response to questions from reporters while visiting the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa on Friday that the issue is nothing new, as it had been previously brought to the country’s attention. Noting that the issue can, of course, be discussed, he added that the pros and cons of a possible switch should be seriously weighed.
The debate over a possible switch to the presidential system was revived earlier this week when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, known to be in favor of such a system, said Turkey should discuss the issue while drafting its new constitution. Council of State President Hüseyin Karakullukçu also signaled his support for the change on Thursday, saying the council considers the presidential system to be a more democratic one.
Deputy PM Bülent Arınç also spoke about the issue to a local Bursa television network on Friday, saying: “Should the presidential system be discussed in Turkey? Democratically, certainly. If there is freedom of opinion, [it should be discussed].”
“We have the tradition of a parliamentary democracy, but the US has a presidential system. There is no authoritarianism. Obama can’t appoint anyone he wants unless the Senate approves it. He can’t send weapons to any country he wants unless there’s approval by the Senate. There is a system of checks and balances. If you grant authority, you need to set up a mechanism to keep it in check.”
He noted that France, a country which has greatly influenced Turkey’s administrative system, has a semi-presidential system. Arınç said what matters most is how Turkey can be better governed. “With a presidential or semi-presidential or parliamentary system, or another democratic system that falls outside of all of these models? All these countries have democracy. You can’t say the US or France doesn’t have democracy.”
Arınç said discussion as to the possibility of switching to a different form of government does not necessarily mean accepting it.
He also pointed to various problems regarding the current powers and authority held by the president. “The term of the presidency is very long [and the president’s] powers are extensive, but he has no accountability. The only thing he can be held accountable for is treason, according to the Constitution. That is the only accusation for which you can try the president. It has never happened in our history, and it would be impossible for it to happen in the future. Previously, the president was elected by Parliament, but now the people will vote for the president in two rounds.” He said the contrast between presidential authority and presidential responsibilities might need to be revisited, adding that some people have noted there is already an unofficial semi-presidential system in place in Turkey.
The deputy prime minister also noted that Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) founder Alparslan Türkeş had made a similar suggestion in the past, adding he found it difficult to understand why MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli had opposed a presidential system.
Turkey’s political system is based on a separation of powers. Executive power is exercised by the government and legislative power is vested in Parliament. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Currently, the president is elected every five years by public vote. Executive power rests with the prime minister and the Cabinet.
The adoption of a presidential system has been a common point of debate in Turkey. Erdoğan, who supports a presidential system, frequently brings the issue to the public’s attention, and many have speculated that he hopes to become Turkey’s first president under a new presidential system.