MESOP DOCUMENTS : Turkey at Critical Juncture: New Constitution and Presidential System

Halim A. Çıtak, Gazi University, Ankara – November 8, 2012Research/Policy Papers

Indicative Abstract: Presidential system is an option that has never been appraised in the long course of constitutional experience of Turkey. In the last periods of workings on constitutional amendment,…

Indicative Abstract:

Presidential system is an option that has never been appraised in the long course of constitutional experience of Turkey. In the last periods of workings on constitutional amendment, presidential form of government is proposed as an alternative governmental system and has become a current subject of controversy/research. Because the actuality attributed, it is necessary to draw an outline of the system, explain the advantages/disadvantages and examine its applicability to Turkey.

Presidential system is a form of governance in which the president, who is the head of the executive and the head of the state at the same time, is elected by the people for a period of time. Also, the president cannot be dismissed by the legislative organ and the legislative organ cannot be dissolved by the president. The most remarking feature of the presidential form of government is that it places “president” to the center. Contrary to the parliamentary system in which the president of republic, prime minister and ministers use executive power collectively, in the presidential system the president holds the power of execution exclusively.

The second feature of the presidential system is that it suggests rigid separation of powers. Whereas, in the parliamentary regimes, only the legislative organ is formed by election and the executive organ is composed through this election; in the presidential system the executive organ comes to power through a different election. The rigid separation of powers emerging from the beginning is sustained by the implementations that the president is not subject to vote of confidence, the president cannot dissolve the parliament, and the members of the cabinet cannot be elected from the legislative organ.

The first concept that is primarily encountered when examining the advantages and disadvantages of the presidential system is “stability”. Since it foresees a stable and strong executive, it may be thought that the presidential system provides a positive stability. However, when the facts that the president who has lost his or her legitimacy and popularity in the eyes of the public cannot be dismissed during the predetermined period in the office, or the president who has gained the support and the trust of the public cannot be elected more than two terms, and the “lame duck” psychology stemming from these factors are considered the absolute stability that is brought about by the presidential system may also have negative consequences.

The double legitimacy which is considered both the advantage and disadvantage of the presidential system means that both the legislative and the executive organs accede to power through different elections and have independent legitimacies from one another. It is argued that the democratic characteristic of the presidential system is preponderant and this regime plays a more active role in consolidation of democracy, because the system provides the president a separate democratic legitimacy, and the legislative and the executive powers are affirmed by the public distinctly. However, it is possible that the presidential system leads to controversies between the legislation and execution and crises of regime. These crises called “deadlock” or “paralysis” may damage the democratic culture by triggering the formation “presidentialist” systems.

That the executive organ is composed of one single person removes the possibility of coalition. This situation of “winner takes all” raises some problems both for the government and the opposition. Because all the executive powers are in the hands of one person and that this person is not politically accountable for the practices during the time in the office may cause the execution to be personal, arbitrary and authoritarian. Moreover that the opposition is excluded from the political system completely and deprived from participation the execution damage the democratic characteristic of the regime, and promotes Illegal acts and Practices that are outside of the political arena/politics of the opponents.The presidential system may have some benefits in terms of stability and double legitimacy; however, it runs some risks of the applying it in Turkey. The parliamentary system, which in operation for hundred years, is consistent with the historical background of Turkish politics within the framework of sultan and grand vizier division. The transition to the presidential system will not comply with the historical experience and it will require a radical change which may last decades in the whole legal system of the country. This change will cause many legal incompatibilities. Therefore, the presidential system is not an accurate choice in terms of “method” primarily.

The most important factor that motivates political party leaders during their time in power to perform well is the concern “to be accountable to the voters” in order to be reelected by them; therefore, transition the presidential system on the basis that it will be “stable” is not reasonable, especially in the case of Turkey. Likewise, the behavior of the Turkish voters stabilizes the government reducing the need to change governmental system, and ends the short-lived middle terms of coalitions by the long term single party rule.

Politics in Turkey is based upon basic values, life styles and ideologies, and political parties are shaped in this direction. That is why; in Turkey, even the issues that may seem temporal and unimportant may suddenly cause great controversies. It is imperative that the opposition express their views by entering the political agenda in Turkey where the politics always has the potential of deep polarization. Within the political atmosphere stemming from the parliamentary regime, the opposition at least relieves the societal fault lines by externalizing and politicizing the tension. However, since the presidential system presupposes “the game of all-or-nothing”, it causes a lacuna of opposition and increases the risk of social conflict.

The relations of military and politics, which are seen as a controversial and problematic area since the beginning of Turkish political history, also have the potential to cause problems in the context of presidential type of government. The presidential system may lead the way to the military, which has always been a part of Turkish political system one way or another, to be more involved in politics; because such system may create governmental crises on top of the political party system with a weak compromise culture, and the abovementioned lacuna of opposition.

When the political conditions of Turkey, and the possible advantages and disadvantages of the presidential system are evaluated, it is obvious that the application of presidential system in Turkey is a highly inappropriate and risky choice. It is true that the current system has its own faults and blockages. However, the solution to these problems is not a radical change of the system which will increase the existing problems dramatically, but it is making improvements and rationalizations within the boundaries of the parliamentary system.

Halim A. Çıtak, Research Assistant, Faculty of Law, Gazi Univesity, Ankara

Please cite this publication as follows:

Çıtak, Halim A. (November, 2012), “Turkey at Critical Juncture: New Constitution and Presidential System”, Vol. I, Issue 9, pp.6-10, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. ( )