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Turkey Analysis: The Growing Debate over a Presidential System

Although Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has made it clear that the new Constitution will only be drafted after the parliamentary elections of June 2011, heated public debate over the document continues

In April, Erdoğan’s said, "Turkey could adopt a presidential system" if the people supported the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the 2011 general elections. Then, welcoming the results of the 12 September referendum on constitutional change, the Prime Minister handed the responsibility for drafting the new constitution to Burhan Kuzu, an MP from AKP and the head of the Constitutional Commission in the Parliament, who is known for his frequent references to the adoption of Erdogan's favoured system. 

The debate is far from new. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Turgut Özal, Prime Minister and later President, suggested the adoption of a presidential system, giving powers to policy-makers rather than the Parliament for his neo-liberal approach. Erdoğan renewed the suggestion in April 2003, criticised by opponents for "his political concessions to the EU and the US in terms of Cyprus and Kurds and trying to create a crown in Ankara", in the words of journalist Cüneyt Arcayürek.

The current opposition in the Turkish public to Erdogan's Presidential project is generally on two lines of argument.  The first group, including the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Nationalist Action Party, claims that Erdoğan is trying to create a one-man administration and is transformingTurkey into a federation which would grant political autonomy to the Kurds, meeting the condition of "the Greater Middle East Project" of the US.

The second challenge revolves around political participation, claiming that a presidential system would potentially undermine equal representation of different sections of society. Ümit Boyner, the chair of TÜSİAD (Association for Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen) and intellectuals like İsmet Berkan and Zafer Üskül are leading proponents of this argument.

Proponents of the presidential system argue that it would remove "the barriers imposed by the judiciary on the executive's actions", in the words of Erdoğan, and would sustain the government. Thus, the debate again displays the puzzle of Turkish politics: stability in administration or equality in representation.

Although Ömer Çelik, AKP's Deputy Chairman, has said that transition to the presidential system is currently not on the party’s agenda, the issue is likely to mark the post-election process in Turkish politics, with AKP putting forth the proposal to the public after the June 2011 elections. In those elections, AKP will be more populist than ever as it pursues consensus; the other major parties such as CHP and MHP will re-align themselves to meet this strategy, especially if they cannot devise an alternative project. 

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