Constitutional Court rapporteur Ali Rıza Çoban said the amended presidential law is in violation of the Turkish Constitution. He submitted a report earlier this month regarding the appeal filed by the main opposition party stating that in his opinion the incumbent president's tenure is seven years and that he is eligible to be re-elected. However, the rapporteur's opinion is not binding on the court. The top court's decision rules out the possibility of holding a presidential election as early as this August, and therefore does not jeopardize the ambitions of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to move to the presidency.
The decision could have gone three ways. First, the court could have found the bill challenged by the CHP to be perfectly in line with the constitution. In that case, Gül’s tenure would have expired in 2014, but he would have been barred from seeking re-election. This option, favored by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), would have allowed Erdoğan to step down as prime minister a year before his time was up and seek election as president. Meanwhile he would have had sufficient time to transition Turkey’s government from parliamentary to presidential.
The second possibility was that the court might have cancelled the bill, prompting elections to be held in August. Bringing the presidential election forward would have affected Erdoğan’s political schedule as he would be forced to find a replacement for leadership of his party, while also forgoing amendments to the system granting more powers to the president.
The third option was that the court would find a middle ground, allowing the presidential election to be held in 2014 while allowing Gül to seek another term in office. This was an option likely to pit Erdoğan and Gül against one another. The court has decided to adopt this third approach.
Former Constitutional Court rapporteur Osman Can told Today’s Zaman that all three options could be defended from a legal point of view. “All three have a basis in the current Constitution and could be easily defended one way or another,” he said, stressing prior to the release of the court’s decision that the court may have to come to a decision on a legal basis without any consideration for political implications.
“The court based its decision on rights and freedoms. Our rapporteur friend [Çoban] must have thought that removing the right to be elected for another term infringed on the rights of Mr. Gül. Obviously the court’s decision confirmed this approach. This has a strong basis in the constitutional law,” he explained.
Reşat Petek, a retired chief public prosecutor, told Today’s Zaman that the court decision reflects a very well balanced view. “This has protected the rights of the incumbent president without restricting Mr. Gül’s right to be elected,” he said.
Ever since Gül was elected president in 2007 there has been debate over whether he would serve five or seven years. The debate stems from a legal package presented by the government in a referendum after Gül’s election in 2007 including a change enabling voters, rather than Parliament, to elect the president.
Due to a miscalculation in timing, the package was put to a public vote on Oct. 21, 2007, after Gül became president. The package included changes to the term of office for the president and deputies, shortening parliamentary terms from five years to four and reducing presidential tenure from one seven-year term to a renewable five-year term.
Soon after approval of the legislation in Parliament, the CHP claimed that the amendment was unconstitutional and vowed to challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Commenting on the debate over his tenure in late January, Gül said he had nothing more to add on the issue, “But if the main opposition party claims that this contravenes the Constitution, I think they should take the issue to the Constitutional Court.”
The law further states that the seven-year term should apply only to the current president and thereafter ought to be reduced. Gül will be the last to serve for seven years as changes made to the presidency during his term have reduced the time in office thereafter to five years, but the court’s decision says Gül is eligible to run for another term if he chooses to do so.