Turkey’s Executive Presidency: Unorthodox and Questionable

With the proclamation of the Republic, Turkey, which had previously been ruled either through a constitutional monarchy or an absolute monarchy, met the office of the “President”. The era of empires had come to an end, the members of the Ottoman dynasty had been exiled and the people who formed the novel Turkish nation came under strict Republican rule. From this date on, the office of the president constituted a problem in the newly constructed polity, which ensued initially because of the nature of the persons occupying the role. As our guest in MASA Hikmet Özdemir underlined, the office of the President and the election of the President began to pose a problem in Turkish politics, especially with the 1960 Constitution, following Modern Turkey’s first military takeover.

This problem is essentially based on the foundation of the Republic and is shaped by the political agenda of the person occupying the office of the President. Although such problems are quite common in parliamentary systems, they are far more severe in Turkey due to the use of the Presidency as a “guardianship” tool by the unelected elites of the state (the military and the bureaucracy). Since Turkish politics is often drawn with “paternal” and “authoritarian” parameters instead of democratic ones, the unelected elites in the system have constantly instrumentalized the office of President and have even used it as a weapon against elected governments.

The method of the election of the President has also caused crises both at the state and societal levels. Our guest Professor Özdemir underlines that this spiral of crises is yet to be resolved. Events such as the “367 crisis” in our recent political history, which came to fore with Abdullah Gül’s candidacy for the Presidency, are proof that the problem is still evident.

With the “Presidential Government System” accepted in the 16 April 2017 Referendum in Turkey, the Presidential problem has taken on another dimension. Although presidential models (as in the USA) are attractive and effective governmental models when shaped with standard procedures, there are grave irregularities over this model in Turkey.

With the 2017 referendum, Turkey abandoned an issue ridden semi-presidential model and shifted to an executive presidency which denotes the President as both being legally responsible and authorized to govern in the name of the people. This model which was quite cynically denoted as the “Turkish Type Presidency” at that time, genuinely appears to be a model unique to Turkey and, to put it simply, is unorthodox. Turkey’s current system of government runs contrary to conventional standard procedures and presidential theories of political science.

This presidential model, which gives the President and the Parliament a mutual dissolution function, raises the political risk premium in Turkey, as both the elected President and an alternative Parliament are given the authority to throw the country into an electoral spiral in a possible election without a clear winner. In Turkey, which lacks a compromise based political culture and is shaped by majoritarian style politics, this situation is highly likely to create a crisis. Presidential and parliamentary elections being held on the same day, and the requirement of an absolute majority of all votes to be elected President can be counted among the other worrying unorthodox elements of this system.

We do not however believe that a system drawn only with parliamentary parameters is an alternative, as in this system, unelected elites within the state can come to a consensus at the point of determining the head of state thus revealing their tutelary agenda, as was the case in the years preceding AK Party rule. For the Presidential Government System to be successful in Turkey, it is of paramount significance to end queries regarding elections, reevaluate the mutual termination mechanism, and finally to take steps to separate election dates for the executive and legislative branches of government. Turkey, which is unequivocally governed by a “Republican” regime, must remove ambiguities and irregularities regarding the head of state. The maturation of this regime relies on this very endeavor.

Batu Coşkun hakkında 13 makale
After graduating from Bilkent University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, he completed his master's degree in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics.

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