Would the AKP’s proposal consolidate democracy in Turkey? An examination from the point of separation of powers

The characteristics inherent in presidential systems, such as extreme personification of politics, high cost of losses and wins, a strengthening of the legitimacy of the political executive and the dominance of the president’s control over the legislature would contribute to authoritarian tendencies, because the rule of law is insufficient due to the suspected independence of the judiciary system


Mersin University

SODEV Representative for Mersin

E-mail: ihsanmersin33@gmail.com


The discussion on changing the governmental system in Turkey has been the focus of political parties since the 1980s. The first discussions that took place were focused on changing the election method; the aim was to bring about the presidential system. However, the Turkish prime minister has unprecedented theoretical and practical strength in the political system. Due to this unprecedented strength, in practice, Turkey’s governmental system could be considered a type of presidential system. Therefore this article will search for the consequences of a presidential system in terms of the state of prime ministers in Turkey.

The consequences of adopting a presidential system in Turkey can be analyzed from different perspectives. Thus the most striking argument would be to ask if a presidential system could bring democracy to Turkey. The examination of the literature regarding the presidential system and Turkey presents that question would eventually turn to one on the sustainability of democracy in Turkey.

Turkey’s multi-party structure, leaders and weak reconciliation, as seen in the history of Latin American countries, would cause tension between the political executive and legislature, immobility that in turn could cause greater instabilities. In addition, inadequate development of the rule of law and of civil society as well as over-centralized state or governmental structures would contribute to the emergence of authoritarian regimes.

Finally, the possible results of a presidential system in Turkey can be analyzed from the model proposed by the Justice and Development Party (AKP). At this point the analyses would also include the reasons as to why Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would run for presidency. The scope of this article is limited to a brief analysis of the model proposed by the AKP.

As argued by many researchers, the governmental system found in countries such as Turkey provide a lot of power to the prime minister, who at the same time stands for the majority of Parliament. This means that they can often dominate the majority when making laws and in return strengthen the possibility of implementing policies. The president of the United States on the other hand, has less power in law making. The difference between prime ministers (the Council of Ministers) and presidents arises from the method of getting into the executive office as well as from political party structure. Presidents come to power by popular vote, while prime ministers come by the support of a majority in Parliament; the Council of Ministers has an organic relationship with Parliament.

With the transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system, the prime minister would escape from collective decision-making and the possibility of being dropped by vote of censure, which is the result of the organic relations between the executive and parliament. In other words, by adopting the presidential system the prime minister (the so-called president) due to being directly elected by popular vote will get rid of the possibility they could be removed by representatives and in turn will continue to run in office for four to six years. Therefore, it can be argued that a presidential system would empower the prime minister by freeing them from the bonds of the parliamentary system.

In the presidential system the prime minister will be free of the collective decision-making method of the political executive in parliamentary systems. Collective decision-making means that every minister in the cabinet is very important and powerful in terms of decision-making. All the ministers must act in the same direction otherwise a decision cannot be actualized. However, in presidential systems, there isn’t any necessity in decision-making, the decision can be taken without the consent of the ministers (this is why they are known as secretaries in presidential systems). The opinion of secretaries do not matter, it will be the president who has the power to make decisions. In short, the attractiveness of a presidential system for the prime minister arises from the fact that they will dictate their ideas to ministers; both in theory and practice. The transition to a presidential system, therefore, will further empower prime ministers against ministers and representatives. Such a consequence of a presidential system should be questioned in terms of democracy.

The separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers has been a symbol of democracy and a must remain so for the protection of human rights. By separating the powers, they are checked and balanced by each other. The U.S. in this regard has strictly obeyed separation of powers and has been very sensitive throughout its establishment. The Americans were able to establish a true separation of powers and this resulted in an effective presidential system. However, in terms of governmental systems, separation of powers could be reduced to the legislative and executive powers. The judiciary can also be excluded, as it should be independent regardless of the governmental system. This does not mean that the judiciary is insignificant. The judicial system is essential for every government, although, it is more essential in presidential systems. It should, however, be mentioned that promoting presidential systems as a means of establishing a clear separation of powers is not valid in all conditions. This will be verified by examining the AKP model. Bearing both empowerment of prime ministers (then presidents) and the essentiality of the separation of powers in mind, if we really want to consolidate democracy in Turkey we should bring mechanisms that perform checks and balances on the power of the political executive, as mentioned above, who are already very powerful. Here, the question would be: does the AKP model include mechanisms (separation of powers) to balance this empowering? If it does not include such mechanisms it would lead to an authoritarian regimes.

An examination of the proposal recently made by the AKP would allow us to discuss more concrete points about the consequences of the presidential system in Turkey. Some of the features of the presidential system proposed are as follows: secretaries could not be selected among the existing representatives even if they resign; for impeachment two thirds or 367 votes in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) are required; the president is given the power to dissolve the TGNA and the TGNA can drop the president, but in any case there will be two elections; Parliament would be one house based; the state will continue to be unitary; high-level bureaucrats will be directly appointed by the president without the consent of Parliament; the elections of the president and of the TGNA would be held concurrently in five years (http://www.sabah.com.tr/Gundem/). Although not mentioned, the president would probably continue to hold the leadership post of his political party. According to Kuzu, the former General Director of the Constitutional Committee of the TGNA, the model proposed by the AKP is a mixture of the American presidential system and the French semi-presidential system. The model would not include a federal state system but would empower local governments.

Most of the characteristics of the model, such as the state secretaries, election of the president are consistent with most presidential systems. However, the concurrent elections of the president and Parliament, as well as the appointment of high-level bureaucrats in the AKP’s model differ from those in the U.S. presidential system. In the U.S. model, as a condition of checks and balances, the appointment of high-level bureaucrats by the president requires the approval of the Senate. Without such mechanism there would not be a system to check and balance the executive. This means the whole executive branch would be given to the president in a unitary state, which is not so in the United States, where a federal structure exists. This will further contribute to the monist structure of the presidential system as mentioned above. With the characteristics and the tendency of the Turkish political system, the possibility of the emergence of authoritarian system will be very high.

This negative transformation in the context of separation of powers does include a strong possibility of preparing conditions that are not only economic, but also social and political instable as well. The characteristics inherent in presidential systems, such as extreme personification of politics, high cost of losses and wins, strengthening the legitimacy of the political executive and the dominance of president’s control over legislature would contribute to authoritarian tendencies, as the rule of law is insufficient due to the suspected independence of the judiciary system. The possibility of authoritarian regimes in a presidential system in the case of Turkey is not related directly to the prime minister. When discussing a presidential system for Turkey we should bear in mind the leaders, such as Hitler, who came to power by democratic mechanisms. A means to block authoritarian tendencies, the rule of law, democratic political party structure and non-governmental organization should be developed first.