Contrary to rumours, Turkey’s Erdoğan could strengthen presidential system - columnist

The compromised position of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since the inauguration of the executive presidential system last year has led to discussion of setting new, restricted limits to the powers of the president.

But that is wishful thinking on the part of the opposition, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is more likely to consolidate the new system, said veteran Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin in a blog.

Turkey shifted from a parliamentary to the executive presidential system after elections held in June 2018.

The new system did away with the prime minister’s position and transferred vast powers over the government and state to Erdoğan. But it also created vulnerability by raising the share of the vote required to clinch the top government role to 50 percent plus one vote. 

Though parliament has been largely downgraded under the new system, it still works as a check against the president’s power, making control of the presidency and parliament necessary to govern effectively.

The AKP lost its simple majority in parliament in the June 2018 elections, leaving it reliant on its alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which also allowed Erdoğan to win the presidential election in the first round of voting.

Speculation that Erdoğan wished to end his party’s reliance on the MHP has led to talk of the softening of the executive presidential system, Yetkin said.

Opposition leaders have suggested a shift to a French or U.S.-style system, or even a rewritten constitution reviving parliament as the main decision-making body, he said.

The speculation was given wings by the ruling party’s weak performance in local elections this year, and by the revelation that Vice President Fuat Oktay had formed a commission to evaluate the new presidential system.

But, Yetkin said, talk of a fundamental change to the system was optimism given the facts, and it was more likely that the commission would look for ways to strengthen it.

Since the commission is called a “year one evaluation” of a system that the government says is still largely yet to be implemented, it will be used to determine areas to be developed, the journalist said.

It will evaluate the public’s view of the new system, as well as the tangible benefits and drawbacks it has brought so far, he said.

But the question of how to act on the commission’s findings will be left to Erdoğan, who is not likely to seek means to diminish his own powers.

The MHP’s influence has also waned, Yetkin said. The party’s leader, Devlet Bahçeli, has made great tactical use of calling for early elections in the past, but that avenue is almost certainly closed for him now, since Erdoğan has no reason to hold elections until they are due in 2023.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also appears content to work on his party’s successes in the local elections to create a basis for a 2023 election campaign, Yetkin said.

So, Erdoğan has little cause to relinquish any of his vast array of powers, and if anything is more likely to create new regulations to consolidate them, Yetkin said.

Parliamentary politicians of the ruling party have complained at their diminished access to ministers and bureaucrats involved in deciding and implementing policy, the columnist said. The barriers may be set to become even higher.