The AKP has finally turned words into action by drafting and sending Parliament a proposal to change the political system in Turkey to a “presidential system.” The AKP insistently uses this phrase, “presidential system” for its constitutional proposal as it entails provisions such as the election of the head of the state by a general vote, that the head of the state is also the head of the government and that ministers are appointed without confirmation by Parliament. In short, an all-in-one head of state is the objective of the AKP’s proposal, one who would not only represent the unity of the people but also government administrators while appointing half the Constitutional Court judges and remaining as the head of his party.
After a careful study of the full text of the draft proposal sent to Parliament by the AKP, I can categorically and without any hesitation say that the political system proposed by the AKP is wrong, dangerous and detrimental to society. In the AKP’s system of government people will elect a king without any limitation on the king’s powers, just as in the days before the Magna Carta (1215)!
The first question is this: What exactly is this presidential system the AKP so badly wants? Is it the American system they want as they’ve often referred to America when providing examples?
In Turkish political circles, “presidential system” is associated with bad dictatorship and is therefore automatically branded as bad! One will often hear the argument that the presidential system only worked for America and had poor results everywhere else such as the Philippines and South American counties. Recently, a daily newspaper asked its readers to join a debate of the question: Does the “presidential system” produce dictatorship?
For obvious reason the paper did not ask if the AKP’s presidential resolution would produce a dictatorship. Since this debate is so close to home, I took time to take part in this debate with the following thoughts:
In my opinion, the question should have been “if the AKP’s resolution for a presidential system might create “bad dictators?” To this question my answer, categorically and without hesitation, is a big yes. However, I must say from the start that not all presidential political systems produce terrible dictators. That is why one needs to analyze what kind of presidential system is being proposed by the AKP for us to debate.
After a careful look at the AKP’s proposal one can easily conclude that the AKP wants a political system without checks and balances, a House of Representatives without a Senate and leaves no place for the separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature. Such a system will undoubtedly give uncontrolled power to the head of the state, which can easily result in a dictatorship. This is no doubt harmful and dangerous to both society and the state.
In reading the draft of the AKP’s resolution one can also note that it does not include any provisions for as to how political parties are to be formed and function, including the elections of party representatives. In my opinion, a political system must be considered as a whole in order to function seamlessly. The way we elect our representatives and the way political parties exercise power determines the evolution of the state structure. Checks and balances come about through bottom-up elections of representatives at every stage and their allegiance to their party and party leaders – this is very important.
For example, in America the political party structure is not rigid, party discipline does not exist and elections are done on a one representative, one precinct basis that results in the independence of the representatives from the party and the president. American elections take place every two years. The party leader cannot be a candidate and is only there to run the party machinery. This is in contrast to Turkey where the party leader is in control of everything within the party. He or she picks who will be in the House of Representative; they decide who will be city boss of the party and who will make up candidates for major. They almost hand pick the delegates to the convention – I mean everything is in the power of the party leader. It is a one man dictatorship without any checks and balances present, even the edict, “if you fail you resign” doesn’t apply even partially.
In America, the president cannot make anyone a representative or a senator. The party chief is hardly known by the public and cannot be a candidate or be appointed to the Cabinet or any other government office. And the result of this system: If the president wants a law to pass through Congress he may have to individually “beg” at times for a congressman’s and senator’s vote!
In Turkey, all the party leader needs to do is “instruct” his deputies to vote according to his interest!!! If they are not obeyed they will not be reelected for sure! He may even be expelled from the party for acting against the party discipline!
Another major flaw with the AKP’s resolution is its attempt to combine executive powers and the powers of the state in one person!
In my judgment these two powers are incompatible with each other as the powers of the state look after the founding principles of the nation and the principles that unite the people of a nation. Executive powers are given to a parliament or similar governing body that is formed through elections between competing interests that prevail in the country for the resolution of society’s problems and economic development.
In the past, only kings and sultans carried both responsibilities.
If the AKP copied their presidential system from America they are wrong in doing so. In America the Senate represents the unity and peace of the nation and founding ideals. Therefore, it is the Senate that confirms the appointment of secretaries, whose Turkish counterparts are ministers, Supreme Court judges, ambassadors, peace treaties, war budget, ect…
So if it is meant to be a copy modeled after America, it must obviously be a bad copy for in the AKP’s proposal all of the above are to be decided by the president and president alone.
In theory, every political system can produce bad dictators if that system does not have within it separation of powers, independent judiciary, free and fair elections, free press and freedom from party leaders’ influence (meaning a party leader handpicks all candidates to be elected – such as in Turkey) that system shall produce bad dictators! Imagine a vehicle without a break! This is what the AKP’s proposal is. In my considered judgment this will be very detrimental to the society and the nation.
Unfortunately, the existing Turkish system is quite ripe to produce dictators and it has! Even then, the Turkish prime minister is not satisfied with the powers of the prime ministry and wants to have the powers of the president as well!
It is a fact that in theory, the most effective government is a one-man government, but how do you find that one gifted person each and every time? Greek philosophers described that person to be a “philosopher king,” Confucius defined that person as “learned, benevolent and just” and the Quran stated that “the best-suited person ought to lead!”
Human experience over the last 5,000 years is proof that trusting the affairs of a society to one person or one family is not sustainable and safe. Royal families have not been able to always produce the “gifted leader.” Aristocracy also failed the test for they could not relate to the common people and instinctively favored the interest of the state.
Experiencing the era of kings, sultans, monarchies, dictatorships and aristocratic governance history has brought us back to the democratic model and the cry of democracy was: no kings, no sultans and no aristocracy, we the citizens shall rule! How? We shall come together to elect from among ourselves the most-suited citizen for the job and if that person fails we shall replace them with the one we think is the right person at the time.
At this stage, it is educational to briefly review the developmental stages of democracy through the centuries!
When direct democracy was found to be impractical and most often resulted in chaos the political parties were established and “representative democracy” evolved. In this new scheme demagogy, sweet talkers, seekers of power and influence had the upper hand and most often those elected found a way to abuse power and stay in power through influence trading. This resulted in the implementation of the system of checks and balances. It was observed that an elected leader would try anything and do anything to get his way! He wants to stay in power and desires to obtain limitless power.
For these reasons, philosophers, political thinkers and statesman tried to find ways to control the accesses of an elected leader who held tremendous power of the state in their hands. How do we control an elected leader and force them to stay within the rules of the Constitution and the law?
In other words, how do we protect democracy from those who abuse it, from those who don’t want to stay within the limits of the powers delegated by the people?
To find answers to these questions the following institutions and measures were added to the state structure and the government system:
- Bi-cameral parliament
- Shortening the election periods
- Elections to be independent of the leader, fair, free and transparent
- To limit the terms of service
- Constitutional Court
- Independent judiciary
- Immunity of the speaker in Parliament
- Free press
- Freedom of assembly
Let’s not forget the edict, “power corrupts more power corrupts more.”
All the above, along with the concept of separation of powers and checks and balances, came into being as a result of human experience with democracy over 2,000 years!
It is beyond my comprehension how the AKP’s draft resolution for constitutional change is anything but a move from bad to worse as it is fully devoid of the any of the lessons of the history of democracy discussed above. For example, in the proposed resolution of the AKP, the judiciary is not independent because the head of the judiciary is appointed by the head of the state without even any outside confirmation or consideration; the Constitutional Court cannot provide balance for half of its members are appointed directly by the head of the state!
Therefore, I say the AKP’s proposal is a terrible, historical mistake and a very dangerous move for the detriment of the society today and generations to come.
With deep regret, I must also state that the proposed constitutional changes carry no lessons learned from our own experience with democracy in Turkey over the last nearly 90 years.
In light of the above reasoning and historical facts, I am against the AKP’s proposed constitutional amendment as due to my political experience, knowledge and wisdom I cannot accept it.
In conclusion, to the question of whether the AKP’s proposed constitutional amendment for a “presidential system” will result in a bad dictatorship, my answer is a million times yes.
Ertugrul Cepni, Istanbul, 28 January 2013
Ertugrul Cepni, M.S.E.E Electronic Engineering
The writer graduated in 1971 from the University of Southern California with a M.S, degree in electrical engineering. Presently, the writer is an active member of the CHP. The writer has several articles to their name and has delivered several speeches on the subject of the bicameral system, political party structures and election systems. His pursuit for better governance and how democracy can survive is a continuing topic of research.
The writer is a founding member of several NGO’s one of which is TUSES (Turkish Social, Economic and Political Research Association).