Turkey’s New Constitution Would End Its Democracy


Date posted: January 25, 2017

Noah Feldman

With all eyes on the U.S. as it inaugurates a new leader, Turkey is preparing to amend its constitution to make its president even more powerful than the American executive.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with replacing parliamentary government with a presidential system. The problem is timing and context: Turkey’s proposed changes, which will go to a national referendum after being approved by parliament, follow the unsuccessful coup against increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In practice, a revised constitution would make it much easier for Erdogan to consolidate power entirely, taking Turkey out of the democratic column and making it into a dictatorship, pure and simple.


A further proposed change sought by Erdogan’s AK Party is to give the president power over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Erdogan has already effectively taken control by purging that body in the aftermath of the coup. The proposed amendments would make that control permanent.


The proposed constitutional revision has lots of moving parts. But the most important is to transform Turkey’s modified parliamentary system into a presidential one. The president’s powers now are, in principle, much more limited. He governs alongside a prime minister chosen by the parliamentary majority, who in turn appoints a cabinet that’s responsible to parliament. An important practical and symbolic mechanism of parliamentary oversight of the government is the right of parliament to demand that cabinet ministers appear before it to answer inquiries — a right known as “interpellation.”

The new draft would shift the basic structure of the system by abolishing the office of prime minister and giving the president the authority to appoint the members of the cabinet. As part of this change, the parliament’s right to interpellate cabinet ministers would be removed.

Americans would find that aspect of the change unremarkable. The U.S. president appoints his own cabinet, albeit with the advice and consent of the Senate. Cabinet secretaries appear before Congress by courtesy, not by an inherent congressional right to question them.


In practice, a revised constitution would make it much easier for Erdogan to consolidate power entirely, taking Turkey out of the democratic column and making it into a dictatorship, pure and simple.


But the proposed Turkish Constitution goes further still in allowing the president to be the head of a political party. That means the president could exercise direct control over what candidates his party runs for office. Erdogan could handpick parliamentarians from his own party, who would be extremely unlikely to exercise a check over him, because he could also kick them out of the party.

In practice, of course, the U.S. president is also the head of the party to which he belongs. But in the U.S. system, that doesn’t give him the authority to pick congressional candidates. That power lies with primary voters, donors and party leaders.

Under the changed system, Turkish presidential elections would take place at the same time as parliamentary elections, every five years. That would make it difficult for voters to express dissension at the national level during the president’s term, because there would be no midterm elections.

A further proposed change sought by Erdogan’s AK Party is to give the president power over the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Erdogan has already effectively taken control by purging that body in the aftermath of the coup. The proposed amendments would make that control permanent.

In the U.S. presidential system, of course, the executive appoints federal judges and senior federal prosecutors. As long as they subsequently serve their terms on good behavior, they can function relatively independently. The trouble is that, as Erdogan’s purge shows, there’s no similar long-term guarantee of de facto independence in the Turkish system. Erdogan’s judges and prosecutors would be seen as political functionaries, and might well actually be subordinate to the executive. A proposed nominal guarantee of judicial and prosecutorial “impartiality” is only as good as political reality makes it.

Perhaps the most clever and pernicious element of the proposed change is that it limits the president to two terms — but only starting with ratification and new elections. That would allow Erdogan to remain in power until 2029, when he’ll be 75. By then he would have been running Turkey as prime minister or president for a whopping 26 years. That’s not a recipe for democracy, to put it mildly.

The entire reform package must pass the parliament with 330 votes out of 550. The ruling AK Party doesn’t have enough votes on its own, but it can reach the threshold by getting the votes of the nationalist, far-right MH Party. Then the package would go to a referendum.

In 2010, Turkish voters approved constitutional reforms pushed by the AK Party, by 58 percent to 42 percent. The vote is unlikely to be so lopsided this time. In practice, the vote will be a referendum on Erdogan himself.


Perhaps the most clever and pernicious element of the proposed change is that it limits the president to two terms — but only starting with ratification and new elections. That would allow Erdogan to remain in power until 2029, when he’ll be 75. By then he would have been running Turkey as prime minister or president for a whopping 26 years. That’s not a recipe for democracy, to put it mildly.


Absent the failed coup, it seems conceivable that Erdogan could have lost a bid to make Turkey into a presidential system designed to maximize his power. But the coup unfortunately provides ammunition for the argument that he needs greater authority to run the country.

If the presidential change prevails in Turkey, and is used to subvert democracy still further, it will contribute to the perception in many places that the presidential form of government is simply a prelude to autocracy. Traditionally, the U.S. system has stood as a bulwark against those arguments. Whether it remains so is the most significant question of Donald Trump’s presidency that has just begun.

Source: Bloomberg , January 22, 2017


Related News

The next phase in Turkey’s political violence – third and coming coup could be the most violent

It has now been almost three months since the failed coup in Turkey. The events of July 15 were predictable, but they nevertheless mark a watershed in modern Turkish history. Still, it would be a mistake to view the coup as a single event. Turkey actually experienced two coups, but it will be the third and coming coup which could be the most violent and might very well cost Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan his life.

US ambassador story concocted by gov’t team, claims daily

Reports appearing in pro-government newspapers accusing US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone of remarks regarding a major graft probe were manufactured by government teams, according to the Taraf daily on Wednesday.
On Saturday four pro-government dailies ran the same story claiming Ricciardone had told a group of European ambassadors that the US had asked Turkey to cut the Iranian financial link with Halkbank — a bank that is now accused of suspicious money transfers, as well as gold trading, with Iran.

AK Party provincial board member resigns after insults

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) İzmir provincial board member Emine Yenen has resigned from the party after being subjected to insults and discriminatory treatment by party members.

What is lacking in democratization package is democracy itself

This time’s so-called democratization package to soon be submitted to Parliament is an overt effort to make judicial proceedings nearly impossible if the consent of a governor or one of their deputies has not been granted. A prosecutor who wants to start an operation will first go to the governor (read: the government) in order to get a license to use law enforcement bodies in any sort of operation. This move is not only against democratic norms and the principles of transparency and the rule of law, but is also a clear reflection of a defensive mechanism in light of mounting corruption and graft claims surrounding senior government officials.

Mothers meet in İstanbul to mark Mother’s Day, see their children

A mother, Vera Stamova from Moldova, expressed similar feelings. “My two children study in Turkey. My younger daughter studied in Turkish schools [in Moldova]. She received a quality education. I love Turkey and I have great confidence in Turkish people. If I had another child, I would also send her to Turkey. I miss them a lot, but they are very lucky and are taken good care of here,” she said.

Case of Calgary imam accused of plotting failed coup in Turkey will remain in limbo

Davud Hanci’s court appearance has been delayed. He was expected to appear today before a judge by video conference on allegations he helped orchestrate Turkey’s failed coup attempt last summer.

Latest News

Fethullah Gülen’s Condolence Message for South African Human Rights Defender Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Hizmet Movement Declares Core Values with Unified Voice

Ankara systematically tortures supporters of Gülen movement, Kurds, Turkey Tribunal rapporteurs say

Erdogan possessed by Pharaoh, Herod, Hitler spirits?

Devious Use of International Organizations to Persecute Dissidents Abroad: The Erdogan Case

A “Controlled Coup”: Erdogan’s Contribution to the Autocrats’ Playbook

Why is Turkey’s Erdogan persecuting the Gulen movement?

Purge-victim man sent back to prison over Gulen links despite stage 4 cancer diagnosis

University refuses admission to woman jailed over Gülen links

In Case You Missed It

Rumi Forum Hosts Dinner Celebrating Ramadan

Human Rights Watch: People being tortured, abducted in post-coup Turkey

Post-coup purge in Turkey leaves children parentless after mother and father are put behind bars

Coup in Turkey, Turkish Schools in Nigeria, and Implications for Nigeria’s National Security

27th Abant Final Declaration on Democratization of Turkey

Wife of veteran who lost hand, eyes in bomb attack under custody over Gülen links

Jews, Muslims Bond Over Shared Values

Copyright 2024 Hizmet News