AK Party plans for semi-presidential system stir further debate

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

May 17, 2012, Thursday/ 18:09:00

Marking a shift in its previously unwavering stance, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has begun to hammer out plans for the possible adaptation of a semi-presidential system for Turkey rather than the presidential form of government it had preferred.

The change came at an intraparty meeting on Monday attended by prominent party figures during which several ideas regarding the system of government to be mandated by the new constitution were reviewed. Experts and political analysts have noted there should be a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of each system, presidential and parliamentary.

The debate over a possible switch to a presidential system was revived last week when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, known to be staunchly in favor of such a system, said Turkey should discuss the issue as it drafts its new constitution.

The AK Party's Central Decision and Administration Board (MKYK) held a very long meeting on Monday to review and discuss the possibility of switching to a presidential or semi-presidential system in the face of stern opposition from the political parties in Parliament. These parties cite such reasons as the new system potentially harm the democratic structure of the current political system, the parliamentary system, and the idea that the presidential system could easily turn into an authoritarian regime as reasons for their dissent.

A new road map was laid out by these officials. According to this plan, the AK Party will raise the issue with the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission as well as with the public so it will be discussed to a wider extent during the process of drafting the new constitution, the Sabah daily reported on Thursday. However, the issue will not be presented as a requirement by the AK Party for the constitution in order to avert a political standoff. If the new proposal is highly contested by the other parties in Parliament, it will be withdrawn by the government.

Meanwhile, the prominent party members and consultants who attended the meeting reached a consensus that a presidential or semi-presidential system would properly suit the administrative structure of Turkey. However, some officials were quoted by the daily as saying that Turkey may not be ready for a presidential system at the moment. After much contemplation of the issue, the semi-presidential system appeared to be the desirable model for the AK Party towards the end of the meeting, the same daily noted.

According to the top MKYK members who determine party policies, if a semi-presidential system were to be enacted first as a preliminary test, the transition to a presidential system later could be much easier and less troublesome.

Some AK Party officials defended the idea that if Turkey adapts to a presidential form of government, it should be realized with a unitary system rather than a federal form of government as in the US, which would not be appropriate for Turkey's political concerns.

In remarks to Today's Zaman on Thursday, legal expert and political scientist Levent Köker said Turkey's current political system already resembles a semi-presidential form of government, adding that the president of Turkey has too much power. He said the new reports on a possible policy change by the AK Party regarding the issue address the need for a comprehensive examination of the issue.

He touched upon the preparation of the new constitution, saying that if the Turkish government wants a new constitution in a real sense and is not striving merely for a revision of the military-made 1982 Constitution, many issues should be discussed in a flexible way. A change in legislative power, the possible establishment of a senate and the foundation of new regional administrative units, including the transfer of authority from the central government to those units, should be considered within the scope of the current unitary system.

He pointed out that the president to be elected by the people in the next presidential election, in 2014, could take more active role in exercising executive power. Moreover, the nature of the relationship between the president and the prime minister must be restructured, taking any possible arguments over the distribution of authority between them into account, he noted.

The establishment of two bodies with legislative power, a senate and a parliament, should be considered, Köker stated. However, he said the new senate must be part of a system of checks and balances that also protects the liberty and freedom of the people rather than a tool of political tutelage. This was a reference to the Senate of the Republic that was established by the 1961 Constitution following a military coup that took place in 1960. New local administrative units must be found, he argued, and added that representation in the senate must be based on the political equality of these newly established local units.

The adoption of a presidential system has been a common subject 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.

Within the scope of the current parliamentary system, Serap Yazıcı of İstanbul Bilgi University, an expert on constitutional law, said the prime minister now has much greater power than a president in a country that has a presidential form of government.

Along with Köker, Yazıcı noted that the president of Turkey holds great power thanks to the 1982 Constitution. The Constitution created a mixed (hybrid) model of government with a powerful president, different from classical models of a parliamentary system. Add to this, she noted, the election of the president by the people in 2014, and the current system is more similar to a semi-presidential one.

Beyond this, she suggested that a prime minister in a parliamentary system can not only dominate the council of ministers but also parliament, as he holds the majority of the legislative power. Thus, a prime minister is much more powerful than a president, she noted.

While the presidential system has advantages regarding the maintenance of political stability, she noted that there is no way to remove a president until the next election term, in comparison to a parliamentary system.

Yazıcı said Erdoğan is a powerful actor who dominates both the Council of Ministers and Parliament. He has a more effective political role than presidents, Yazıcı argued. For that reason, Yazıcı says the proposal by the prime minister to transition to a presidential system does not make much sense.

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