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Turkey's constitutional referendum: What is changing?

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Turkey's constitutional referendum: What is changing?

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By Ruhi Açıkgöz, AK Party Brussels representative

Under the leadership of the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the pioneering of the Justice and Development Party and the support of the National Movement Party, 330 out of the 550 MPs have agreed to go forth with a referendum on the 16th April in Turkey. Turkish citizens have two options: Yes or No.

The presidential system discussion is not new in Turkish political history. The issue was recently brought on the agenda by Turgut Özal, a key political figure in Turkey’s transition to a western-style liberal economy in 1980s. The ‘Turkish-Style Presidential System’ arose again because of some problems with governing and the need for reforms. Dual leadership is the main obstacle in Turkey and the primary reason for the referendum. The 2001 economic crisis in Turkey is one of the best examples of the problem with dual leadership. It is also known as ‘Black Wednesday’ and it was the biggest economic crisis in Turkey. At a National Security Council meeting, the political crisis between president Ahmet Necdet Sezer and prime minister Bülent Ecevit suddenly turned into an economic crisis affecting the whole country. This led to new conditions that changed the country’s medium-term perspective and brought about an unexpected economic contraction, the price of which was paid right up until 2011. Thanks to the ‘presidential government system’, the powers of the president and prime minister will be integrated. The President will become the head of the executive and dual leadership will be abolished in the administration. Political tensions and crises between the presidents and prime ministers will finally end. Under the new system, administrative decision-making, reforms and actions will become faster and more efficient.

Those voters who lived in crisis years and experienced coalition governments look positively towards a ‘presidential government system’ because, bar the last 15 years under the AK Party, Turkey suffered a lot from political instability in its multi-party democratic life due to the parliamentary government system. On average the change of government occurs every 1.5 years in Turkish political history. This situation leads to political instability and economic crises, those economic crises trigger security problems, security problems strengthen tutelage institutions, the tutelage system opens a road to putsches at regular intervals and it weakens our democracy. Turkey is faced with both domestic affairs and area reduction in foreign politics. In fact, in the ‘presidential government system’, there is no such coalition possibility. There is stability and stability is the cornerstone of development, economic growth and prosperity. Over the last 15 years, Turkey has had stability; but this was dependent upon person and party. With the new system, stability will be given to the institutions. Stability will become permanent.

In the ‘presidential government system’, the government will take action while the parliament focuses on its main duty, law-making, as well as monitoring government on behalf of the people. The minimum age to become a member of parliament will be lowered from 25 to 18 and the number of MPs will increase from 550 to 600. Hence, this increase leads to the extension of representation, ensuring that the growing population is represented in parliament accordingly. The Turkish parliament and government would function separately. Both the Parliament and Government would be elected (on the same day every 5 years) and monitored by the people. With the president elected directly by the people with more than 50% of the votes, political unity will increase and polarization will decrease; the potential to renew elections together will pave the way for solving crises through reconciliation. Also, the president shall retain ties with his/her political party. Party committees and channels will enable the presidency to have more contact with the people and establish policies through the national will. “Non-accountability” of the president will be abolished; in other words, the president would no longer be “authorized but unaccountable”. In the current system, actions taken by the president alone are not subject to judicial control; whereas in the new system, all the President’s actions would be subject to judicial control. Accordingly, in this new system, there is no area, topic or person that would be beyond judgment.

There will also be judicial reforms. The independence of the judiciary is not enough, it must also be impartial. Therefore impartiality becomes a constitutional provision. With the new regulation, the opportunity of FETO-type structures to wield power over the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP) will be eliminated. On the other hand, the military judiciary will be completely abolished. Only disciplinary courts will be functional. Military courts will only be established during a state of war. There will be unity within the judiciary; all citizens will be subject to the same judicial institutions. The structure of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HCJP) and its election method will also change; the number of members will be lowered from 22 to 13; the number of chambers will be lowered from 3 to 2. The current status of the Minister of Justice and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice will be preserved. Four members of CJP will be elected by the President as it is at present. Seven members, who constitute the majority of the CJP, will be elected by the qualified majority in Parliament for the first time. Democratic legitimacy will be consolidated by granting authority to the Parliament for electing the members. Competition and factionalism among members of the judicial institution will end. The will of the Parliament shall take primacy.

After the referendum, if the result is ‘yes’, transition to the ‘presidential government system’ will begin in 2019 with the presidential election. The current system will be preserved until the 2019 elections and in 2019 there will be both a legislative election and a presidential election at the same time. The Turkish Grand National Assembly will make legislative adjustments to the new system and the president will also publish decrees. Another option for the referendum result is ‘no’. ‘No’ can be interpreted as simply meaning: ‘the nation did not find this model sufficient in solving the problems’. Therefore, there must be a new reform model put to the nation again that would resolve any doubt in the public mind.

As it is seen, the ‘presidential government system’ will bring clarity. There will be direct authorization. Incompatibility between the president and prime minister, seeking coalitions, the crises experienced forming governments, the bargaining between lawmakers, the overthrowing of governments in parliament, which were all observed before AK Party governments, will vanish for good. But whatever the result, in the words of our president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, those who say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ are the respectable citizens of the Turkish Republic.

Picture: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan greet their supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum, in Izmir, Turkey, April 9, 2017.

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