President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a campaign to establish a “Turkish-style” executive presidential system and a new constitution, saying these are not a matter of personal ambition, but a necessity in a country whose parliamentary system he says is out of date.
Erdogan, who won Turkey’s first direct presidential election held on Aug. 10, 2014, said a head of state elected by the people should be more than a symbolic role. Before the presidential election in August 2014, Parliament elected the country’s president.
Speaking during a meeting titled “Together for a New Constitution” at the Ankara Chamber of Commerce’s (ATO) Congresium Hall, Erdogan said he believes the parliamentary system in Turkey is outdated, emphasizing that the current situation, in which both the prime minister and president are popularly elected, is unsustainable. “In building the ‘New Turkey’, we think Turkey needs an executive presidential system and a new constitution. This discussion should not be presented as a matter of my own personal ambition,” he said in his speech to civil society groups. The president said making a new constitution is no longer the concern of a certain institution or individual, but is now that of the whole nation.
Work to draft a new constitution has been recently accelerated, Erdogan said, adding: “This issue is domestic and national. I clearly say that as the president, I will be involved in any national issue. All the constitutions that have been established in Turkey so far were all imported; they were not national at all. Those imported mindsets dominated us [for years]. Now, we are returning to a domestic and national one.”
“If the presidential system is the right choice for Turkey’s future, then it should be put into practice,” said Erdogan, urging for the establishment of this “Turkish-style” presidential system as soon as possible.
Erdogan served as prime minister for more than a decade and ran in the August presidential poll in 2014 in the expectation of swift constitutional reforms that would grant the head of state new executive powers. But his plans have been impeded in part because of opposition fears of what they regard as his increasingly authoritarian style.
The president also said he expected political parties and civil society groups to take part in forging a new constitution and the separation of powers would be one of the main points of debate. The people, not Parliament, should ultimately decide on the new text, Erdogan said, apparently signaling a possible referendum in the upcoming months.
Opposition parties agree on the need to replace the current Constitution, borne out of a military coup staged on Sept. 12, 1980, and still bearing the stamp of its military authors, in a country that is a candidate for European Union membership. But they oppose plans to entirely overhaul what is now a largely ceremonial presidency. The opposition also strictly objects to this “Turkish-style” presidential system, which they say seeks to consolidate all powers in the hands of one man.
Opposition objects to presidential system, backs parliamentary system
Erdogan’s Thursday remarks have attracted strong criticisms from representatives of the opposition parties.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Sezgin Tanrikulu said Erdogan actually admitted that he had dealt a blow to the country’s democracy by saying the parliamentary system in Turkey is out of date. Tanrikulu also claimed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), whose founder is Erdogan, is deliberately working to render Parliament useless by blocking its operation with various methods because it holds the majority in Parliament.
Stressing that it is no longer possible to say there is a separation of powers under the AK Party rule, Tanrikulu said the legislative and executive powers have become identical and the judiciary power has been put under the political influence of Erdogan and the AK Party completely. According to Tanrikulu, the judiciary is being used as if it were a weapon for use against those who are critical of Erdogan and the AK Party government.
Pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ertugrul Kürkçü, told Today’s Zaman that the presidential system is entirely Erdogan’s personal ambition and contrary to what he said during his speech on Thursday. “Turkish people have never had such a demand at all. In the last two years, Erdogan has kept on bringing this issue onto the agenda, but even more than half of the AK Party’s voting base is against the establishment of such a presidential system in the country. All those outside the AK Party’s base are against this ambition. Public surveys confirm this. Erdogan wants this system for his own benefit and to protect his family members and friends,” Kökçü said.
Kökçü said he does not believe Erdogan will get the necessary support to take this issue to the people in a referendum.
Holding a press conference in Parliament on Thursday, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Chairman Emin Haluk Ayhan said Erdogan wants a system that will enable him to remain in power for a long time, which is why he insists on establishing a presidential system in the country. Ayhan said, as the MHP, they will always support the current parliamentary system, emphasizing that his party will never give up from the Constitution’s first four articles, which define the form of the state, the characteristics of the state, the integrity, official language, flag, national anthem and capital of the state.
Erdogan repeats controversial ‘set aside legislation to fight terrorism’ remarks
Erdogan backed his words, “If necessary, set aside the legislation,” which he told district governors at a meeting on Tuesday, during his speech on Thursday. He said that if they acted according to the legislation, they would not be able to provide the Turkish nation with so many services since the AK party government came to power in 2002.
“We are successful because we adjusted the legislation. We succeeded because we refused to be bound by it. Bureaucratic oligarchy will put legislation in front of you [as an obstacle],” Erdogan said during his speech on Thursday.
Hosting dozens of district governors in his presidential palace in Ankara on Tuesday, Erdogan told them that they can set aside some part of the legislation when necessary concerning the fight against terrorism particularly in the mainly Kurdish Southeast region. Erdogan told the district governors that “the more we had governors with leadership skills, the more quickly we will reach our goals.”
Commenting on the issue, Tanrikulu said those remarks about legislation clearly prove that what Erdogan is seeking “is to establish a dictatorship in Turkey.”
“He does this intentionally to create a public perception for his ambitions. I fear he will tell the same thing to governors and later prosecutors and judges in the future,” he said.
HDP’s Kökçü also commented on the issue, saying that Erdogan is against the implementation of the legislation because he finds it a restriction against his obsolete power in the country.
CHP spokesperson Selin Sayek Böke held a press conference in Ankara on Thursday, lashing out at Erdogan’s remarks about legislation. She said Erdogan’s words are very worrying, saying the president openly ordered district governors to act outside the legislation during his speech on Tuesday. Stressing that Turkey is a state ruled by the law, Böke said Erdogan’s remarks to the district governors are completely “unlawful.”
In the meantime, CHP Izmir deputy Mustafa Ali Balbay asked a parliamentary question to be answered by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday. In his question, Balbay asked whether the new constitution will be made with an understanding that tells district governors to “set aside the laws.” He also asked whether Erdogan’s “unlawful orders to the state officials” violate the Constitution.
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