The Presidential System: A Debate Alaturca | Gökhan Bacık


The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) finally submitted its proposal on a presidential system to the Turkish parliament’s constitutional commission. Here at last was a concrete step taken on the issue of the presidential system, something we had been debating for years.

The AK Parti’s 22-article draft proposal is naturally just a starting point for a future text, [1] since the draft does not discuss important details and dynamics that could come into play should the presidential system be applied. In any case, as far as can be understood, the AK Parti submitted this proposal mainly to initiate a discussion.

Yet the discussion on the presidential system has become focused on Prime Minister Erdoğan’s personal political future. This is definitely an unfortunate development. A basic argument used by those who oppose the presidential system has been based on the idea that the proposal was designed to further Erdoğan’s political career. Of course there does exist a problematic “Erdoğan question” in Turkish politics: After ten years of being in power, and developing all the informal networks that such power entails, nobody expects Erdoğan to simply step aside. Naturally, we ask ourselves what Erdoğan will do next. For Erdoğan to step down from active politics would mean the end of an era, something that many will not want to see, most of all the prime minister himself. At the same time, one of the things Erdoğan knows best is certainly how to be a prime minister. Thus, Erdoğan knows very well that, under the present legal regime, even if he were to be president, the prime minister would continue to be a very important position. Naturally, Erdoğan is the person who knows best everything that the prime minister is capable of.

The AK Parti’s 22-article draft proposal seems to have been more or less inspired by the American model. At its heart lies a strict division between the legislative and executive branches. In fact, one of the most fundamental problems facing Turkish politics since 1950 has been the fact that the Turkish parliament, with a few exceptions, has never been able to be an institution that could hold others accountable. The Turkish parliament must somehow be rescued from the overwhelming authority of the government. This is something that a presidential system could actually achieve. If we want to rescue the parliament from being a body that merely rubber-stamps what the government proposes, then we have to seriously consider the pros of a presidential system as well. Yet there is a tactical dimension to the AK Parti’s proposal as well: Because the president will continue to be the party leader under the proposal, here, too, the parliament will continue to be subordinated to the power of the administration. Whether it is a parliamentary or a presidential system, the way to increase the power of parliament is thus not by proposing a presidential system. The basic solution would be to amend Turkey’s current law on political parties and, if possible, minimize or completely eliminate the current model of party organization. The model of internal party hierarchy, unique to Turkey, makes it possible only to dream of having a strong member of parliament under anything but the most exceptional circumstances. The fact that the constitutional proposal allows the head of state to continue to be a strong party leader preemptively kills the spirit of the model being proposed in these 22 articles.

The second main topic is this issue’s historical background. Every political system is the result of historical developments unique to the countries that implement them. What, then, has Turkish history been telling us since 1876? [2] Because the Ottoman Empire was a kind of monarchy, it was inevitable that the political system, on its quest for democracy, would develop toward parliamentarianism. The anti-monarchy movement was never strong during the nineteenth century, so it is not easy to understand why the Kemalist Republic adopted a system led by a prime minister. In this regard, perhaps, Atatürk’s personal status might be at work. But the main question is whether everything that has happened since 1876 shows that historical developments compel us to adopt a presidential system.

* Associate Professor, Zirve University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration


[2] The year in which the Ottoman constitution was adopted. —Trans.