By Gonenc Uysal:
Turkey had increasingly staged discussions about the system of government when Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Turkey should have presidency in November 2012 (the Turkish system of government is located between parliamentarism and semi-presidentialism). Although the system is parliamentarian, the Constitution of 1982 broadened the President’s fundamental executive, legislative and juridical competences in order to give the role to arbitrate the state structure. Furthermore, the constitutional amendments, which were passed in 2007 and required a referendum to elect the President, moved the Turkish system closer to a semi-presidential system. Although advocates of presidentialism base their arguments on the unsuccessful coalition governments of the 1970s and 1990s, parliamentarianism involves mechanisms to overcome deadlocks unlike presidentialism and semi-presidentialism. It can be argued that Turkish democracy can already be further ameliorated with parliamentarism. This article examines Erdogan’s interpretation of the roles of the President and the government in order to present a prospective on future of the Turkish political context.
On 10th August 2014, Erdogan was elected as the President through a national referendum. Although the elections were recognized as adhering to democratic principles, both preceding and subsequent processes should be discussed to demonstrate Erdogan’s interpretation of the President’s power. Erdogan, as the President, is the head of the state with constitutional executive power alongside the Cabinet. Erdogan had already declared that he would use full-competence if he would become the President. He portrayed the Presidential competences as the Constitutional rights despite the fact that ‘having competence does not entail having a right’. Furthermore, Erdogan underlined that the presidential referendum has changed the system and made the Office of Presidency ‘the executive authority’. Thus, it can be argued that he interpreted the President’s power in absolute terms vis-à-vis the executive and signalled that he would attempt to broaden the President’s executive competences, at least through practices if not at the level of the legal structure.
Most significantly, the Supreme Electoral Council declared the official result of the Presidential elections on 15 August 2014 and the official result was published in the Official Gazette on 28 August 2014. For more than two weeks between 10th August and 28th August, Turkey had two Presidents: Abdullah Gul and Erdogan. Furthermore, Erdogan had three posts: the President, the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the AKP (Justice and Development Party) – despite the fact that the Constitution required the President not to have any political party affiliation. Consequently, Ahmet Davutoglu was permitted to become the Prime Minister on 28th August. Erdogan did not resign from the Office of the Prime Minister during the campaign for the Presidential election based on the Supreme Electoral Council’s decision. Although Erdogan avoided any power vacuum in the executive, it can still be argued that he maintained the political system where he always did have power to rule, even if it meant conflict with the ethos of democracy – having multiple Heads of State, putting pressure on the electorates and breaching the equality of the circumstances of the Presidential candidacy.
Moreover, since the Constitution required the President not to have any political party affiliation, on 21st August, Erdogan declared Davutoglu as their candidate to run as the Chairman of the Party and portrayed the AKP as their party. He attempted to delegitimise the CHP (Republican People’s Party) and the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) during the AKP’s Congress on 27th August by discrediting their recent political alliances. Both of these events took place when Erdogan held the title of the President. Thus, his attempt to emphasise his belonging to the AKP and discredit two opposition parties can be considered as a conflict with the Constitution as the President is supposed to have an impartial role.
During his Presidential speech on 28th August, Erdogan presented a break between his term of office as the President and the past. He presented his Presidential term as the closure of the old Turkey era and beginning of the new Turkey era. He delegitimised the old Turkey by portraying it as tutelage regime and legitimised the new Turkey by portraying it as the victory of national will and democracy. Erdogan has always portrayed the AKP’s government as the only representative of the national will while denying the existence of the opposition and its place in the same nation. He further portrayed his Presidential position more legitimate than the previous Presidents by emphasising on the people’s vote to elect the President. Thus, besides being the head of the state as the President, he presented his position legitimate enough to act as the head of the executive and the Party.
It can be argued that Erdogan envisions Turkey as the single-party state represented with the AKP’s majority government, the AKP as the state-party under the leadership of ‘one man’, since one man, now as the President, represents the state. Therefore, the new Turkey era is envisioned as the era of the party-state regime under the President’s leadership in order to consolidate the hegemonic project of conservative democracy.
Gonenc Uysal is a PhD researcher in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, where she focuses on the state discourse on secularism and its interaction with civil-military relations in Turkey.
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