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Turkey’s Charles De Gaulle – OpEd

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo Cancillería del Ecuador, Wikipedia Commons.Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo Cancillería del Ecuador, Wikipedia Commons.

By Saeed Davar*

Turkey must be considered a country of change and its incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be considered as Turkey’s Charles de Gaulle.

Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the biggest change that came about in its wake was the emergence of the modern Turkey. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded a new government and defined a new political structure for Turkey, which has managed to sway the real power up to the present time. Even a politician like incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is afraid of a serious face-off with Ataturk’s theories and this fear arises from the fact that almost half of people as well as the country’s key institutions still consider Ataturk as the father of their republic and are loyal to him.

At present, it seems that history is repeating itself from another angle and new changes are in the offing in Turkey. Since discussions started about the necessity of amending the country’s constitution, the political atmosphere in the country has been affected by special expectations. Erdogan is a resilient, ambitious and power-oriented politician though his capacity for taking criticism in the country’s political arena is limited.

The draft constitution proposed by Erdogan is similar to a model of the French or American constitutions and political structures, though it is more like the French model of constitution. In the new constitution, the Turkish president has vast powers and can have a deputy and also appoint some key officials of the judiciary.

In addition, he will have the power to appoint chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff and the intelligence apparatus as well as chancellors of universities and senior state officials as a result of which he would not have to go through the parliament and get the positive vote of lawmakers for this purpose.

This is a form of presidential system whose terms were first used by Maurice Duverger in 1978 to describe the French Fifth Republic. The main feature of this system was the vast powers delegated to the president, who was elected by the people. This form of government is currently in place in Portugal, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Algeria.

Now the question is: Will the prime minister come from an opposition party if the president enjoys parliamentary minority?

Of course, I believe that nobody should look for a well-defined prime minister in such a system. At the present time, it seems that Erdogan is eyeing this system in order to boost his power. The main goal of Erdogan is to create a basic foundation and fortify the pillars of the ruling Justice and Development Party’s power in order to guarantee the party’s presence in major power institutions for several decades to come and even long after he is gone. In doing so, Erdogan is sure that there would be no second Erdogan within the ranks of the Justice and Development Party in whom the party and its supporters would be able to put the same degree of trust that they currently put in Erdogan.

Enforcement of this law will pave the way for Erdogan to remain at the apex of the power pyramid up to 2029. In this way, the Justice and Development Party will remain in power for 30 years and the way would be cleared for later leaders of the party to snatch the power in the country.

On the other hand, Erdogan could only think about a fundamental faceoff with Ataturk’s legacy and expect victory in the course of a long time, but to do this, he would need to change the ideals of the republic. I am sure that it is not possible to weaken Ataturk’s ideas in a substantial manner unless strategic thinking of those politicians, who are active behind the scenes changes. Through amendments in the constitution, Erdogan could have the post of interim executive president immediately following the referendum if new changes in the constitution are approved. Following the referendum, a presidential poll will be held according to a schedule and at the end of Erdogan’s current term in office in 2019.

According to the current limitations considered for presidential elections on the basis of Turkey’s constitution, if Erdogan wins the 2019 election, he will remain in power until 2024. The important point, however, is that according to amendments proposed for the establishment of a presidential system, if those amendments are approved, the current term of Erdogan in office will not be counted and the count for his presidential terms will start in 2019.

As a result, he will be able to run for two more five-year terms from 2019 and practically stay in power up to 2029. Available evidence shows that Devlet Bahceli, the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party, has agreed to these amendments.

Therefore, if 60 percent of lawmakers vote for the changes in the constitution, the relevant referendum will be held in the summer of 2017, but if two-thirds of lawmakers uphold the changes, no more voting at the parliament would be needed.

I believe that this system will increase the share of parties from the country’s power pyramid and, therefore, it can be made subject to a political, and of course, legal deal, so that, Turkey’s new political system would become something similar to that of France or the United States. A president arising out of parties will either succeed or come under criticism due to plans his party will offer for domestic and foreign affairs and this issue will affect the fate of the president’s party as well.

According to this model, rotational presidency will be institutionalized in Turkey. Of course, to the extent that the president’s party plans become successful, it would be more possible for the person belonging to that party to become president, though not for more than two terms. Following proposed amendments, Turkish parties may not be able to directly enter the presidential cycle and would not be able to enter the election, but they will still have the chance to play a more limited role in that cycle.

If participation in the national movement continues, some parties may be willing to accept these changes and this issue will further strengthen the standing of the Justice and Development Party. I believe that just in the same way that Erdogan can focus on national issues of Turkey and get the positive views of his country’s grey wolves, he is also able to get the votes of the people’s republic through calculated measures on Ataturk’s theories.

* Saeed Davar

International Analyst

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