If an April nationwide referendum delivers a “yes” vote, Turkey’s political system will be fundamentally changed. New Presidential system will be unique to Turkey. It will be more powerful than the French, and US systems. President Erdogan will fight tooth and nail to achieve his dream Presidency.
On 21 January Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) used their combined majority to push a controversial constitutional amendment package through the Turkish Parliament. This development has brought Turkey one step closer to an executive presidency. If an April nationwide referendum delivers a “yes” vote, Turkey’s political system will be fundamentally changed. While Erdogan and the AKP claim that an executive presidency will bring about greater stability and prevent future political crises, opposition is fierce including the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which believes it will bring about a one-man rule.
If adopted it will give the president unprecedented powers, including an increased influence over parliament and the courts – two main sources of checks and balances. The proposed amendments include allowing the President to remain a member of a political party and even to be its chairperson. The post of prime minister will be abolished with the executive power currently under the prime minister and ministers transferred to the president. The president will be able to appoint one or more vice-presidents. He will also be able to dissolve the Parliament. Furthermore, the president would have extensive authority over the Council of Judges and Prosecutors. So, the president will directly and indirectly, through the parliament, have a key role in the selection of the members of the Council, which is a key actor in terms of judicial independence. The proposed amendments also abolish the parliament's right to interpellation making it very difficult for the parliament to take any constructive measures about the actions of the president. This Presidential system will be unique to Turkey. It will be more powerful than the French, and US systems. If adopted, the changes are likely to be implemented in 2019, or earlier if the Parliament decides to hold early elections. The president would be allowed two five-year terms.
Looking ahead to the referendum there are a number of problematic issues. Public awareness about the amendments is inadequate as there has been no real informed public debate. This risks the vote being about President Erdogan rather than the constitutional amendments. Then there is the referendum's ambiguity. While the 18 amendments clearly aim to reduce the Parliament’s legislative powers whereas increasing the president's executive powers, supporters of the change refute this fact. The political climate in the country is also not tangible for such an important decision. Turkey has been under State of Emergency rule since the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt. The security situation remains tense with Turkey having suffered a number of terrorist attacks from both the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), while there has also been a clampdown on critics of the government as well as increased pressure on the media and limits to freedom of assembly. Furthermore the situation in many Kurdish-majority provinces in the south-east of the country, makes campaigning very difficult.
Currently polls suggest that some 59 percent of the electorate oppose an executive presidency. The “yes” campaign has adopted the slogan “For a strong Turkey, say yes” and is linking a “yes” vote with the security issue with some government officials claiming that terror in Turkey will stop if a presidential system is approved in referendum. Reportedly around 20 percent of AKP voters are undecided, and some fifty percent of MHP voters are opposed. Yet President Erdogan will fight tooth and nail to achieve his dream Presidency. He is without doubt the most powerful orator in the country and the AKP’s impressive grass-roots organisational skills give the “yes” campaign a strong hand in terms of rallying crowds and getting Turks to vote “yes”.