Against a Presidential System in Turkey

Article Summary
As Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan muses on changes to the country’s presidency, Hadi Uluengin argues that a presidential system similar to American nations would only be permissible in Ankara if a social consensus on the topic is reached. 

The title of this article sounds like a slogan, I know. But don't get me wrong, I am not against the presidential system in principle. Though this system consolidates the executive branch, it does not contradict democracy.

Accordingly, the presidential system in North and South American countries and the semi-presidential system in France all work just fine. In fact, in the latter case, the semi-presidential model that was theorized by Maurice Duverger has improved democracy.

Therefore the title “say no to the presidential system” does not reflect a prejudice against the presidential system. But I am against the system as envisioned by Justice and Development Party [AKP] politicians.

Let me also note that I won't bring up the argument that can be summarized as, “Turkey's unique conditions wouldn't allow this reform.” This cliche has been used by the old status quo and we are really sick of it.

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A presidential system can be applied in Turkey if a social consensus were to be reached after lengthy discussions, necessary structural transformations were made and checks and balances institutions were formed.

The proposal issued by AKP MPs suggests the introduction of a presidential system in Turkey. This proposal came out of the blue without any previous discussion. This proposal is a new career plan for Recip Tayyip Erdogan instead of an effort to consolidate democracy in Turkey.

While a fundamental change in the system is proposed, the governing party has not even bothered to make a statement that would aim to inform or convince the public opinion.

Given that Erdogan’s autocratic and authoritarian tendencies become more evident each day, the argument that a presidential system tailored for him would consolidate Turkish democracy fails to be convincing.

However, let's not be too skeptical and assume that AKP sincerely wants to renovate the executive branch regardless of its leader.

Even in that case I am against the presidential system.

As I said before, the presidential system does not contradict democracy. However, to maintain a balance between these two, two conditions should be met.

First, structural transformations that include the change of the constitution should be implemented. This government had promised to introduce a new constitution, yet did not keep its promise.

A new definition of the concept of citizenship that actually defines the Kurdish problem and reforms that would introduce decentralization are the other conditions.

If these steps are not taken, the fundamental problems in Turkey will remain untouched. In fact, given that the presidential system would reinforce the centralization tendency that already exists in the administrative structure, there is a risk that things could be made worse.

Democracy can not be without the mechanisms of checks and balances. Institutions like a senate serve as a controlling mechanism in this system. These bodies are much stronger that their counterparts in traditional parliamentary system.

However the proposal of the AKP is vague on this at this point.

Moreover, suggestions like the removal of the requirement that ministers can only be appointed from members of parliaments and the loosening of the budget controls remind me of Bismarck Germany and the technocratic cabinets of the junta governments.

Let me rephrase the title: Under these conditions, say no to the presidential system.

If a will emerges that could not only renovate the executive branch but the whole system, then the election of Tayyip Erdogan to this position would be acceptable.

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