Turkey’s foreign policy started the year at a frenetic pace as conflicts brewed across the region, but the domestic political scene has been similarly eventful, and the opposition is hoping to strike a blow against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
As President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin this week to discuss three conflicts Turkey has a stake in – in Libya, in Syria, and between the United States and Iran – opposition parties set up a broad coalition to demand the end of the executive president system that has been in place since 2018.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and its Nation Alliance partners, the nationalist Good Party and the Islamist Felicity Party, are planning to cooperate on the issue with former AKP Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s newly established Future Party and another new party in the works by Ali Babacan, another ex-AKP heavyweight.
The transition to the executive presidential system is of huge importance to the opposition, since it transferred vast powers from the parliament directly to Erdoğan, severely curtailing lawmakers’ authority.
So, the Nation Alliance leaders have declared that a return to a reformed and consolidated parliamentary system is their main objective in 2020.
Critics of the new system say it amounts to one-man rule by Erdoğan and that it is partly to blame for the dire economic straits Turkey has reached since it was formally inaugurated in July 2018.
Since then, almost every important institution in the country has been tied to the presidency, and both parliament and ministries have seen their roles reduced to the extent that they are now barely involved in policymaking.
Erdoğan now has the power to rule by decree. When they campaigned before the referendum to decide on the switch to the new system, the AKP said the president’s extended powers would streamline the government. Instead, the system appears to work at times by trial and error, with decrees issued and later retracted when errors become clear.
“The executive presidential system has left the country ungovernable and the state ineffective,” CHP lawmaker Erdoğan Toprak said. “Since it was implemented, 31 of the 55 presidential decrees issued have been to correct or amend previous decrees.”
Chaotic governance has heralded a backslide in economic performance, human rights, judicial independence, education, health and almost every area of society, a Dec. 30 report by a research platform chaired by CHP deputy leader Fethi Açıkel said.
“The presidential regime’s lack of competence and disregard for the constitution, law, institutions, the civil service has turned Turkey into a country whose progress has stalled and then reversed on all developmental indices,” the report said.
These measures include the 2019 Freedom in the World report by international rights group Freedom House, in which Turkey scored just 31 points out of 100, earning it a status as “not free”.
Turkey has been measured as one of the two countries to experience the biggest democratic backslide in the last decade, and was the last out of 41 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries graded on their records for political rights and freedoms.
Opposition to the presidential system has become a flag for disparate opposition parties represented in parliament to rally around, and an issue where there is rare agreement.
The two new emerging parties have also stressed their desire to reboot the parliamentary system. This was one of the main issues Davutoğlu discussed when he introduced his new party in December. It is also high among the demands of Babacan, who believes the parliament’s recovery is vital to rebuilt the separation of powers in Turkey.
Political circles in Ankara say there is also rising discontent with the presidential system within the AKP.
Some say that Erdoğan himself regrets the transition to the new system and the heightened requirement of taking more than 50 percent of the vote to maintain the presidency, which has left him beholden to his electoral allies in the far-right Nationalist Movement Party. The Turkish leader has already assigned his vice president, Fuat Oktay, with the task of researching the new system to come up with a list of possible tweaks.
But as this research takes place, there is already legal action underway that could return the country to the old parliamentary system. Turkey’s Constitutional Court, the country’s highest legal body, is presiding over a case that says the referendum that led to the presidential system was held illegally. The opposition has raised questions over the events on election day, when the electoral board announced midway through the count that it would accept votes that did not bear a special security seal.
If the system does revert, this would require a constitutional amendment, and Erdoğan would need the opposition’s support in parliament to draft it. Some say the president will hold secret consultations to direct the court’s decision.
In light of all of this, the presidential system is clear to be one of the most significant issues in Turkish politics in 2020, and has the potential to grant the opposition some rare victories against the party that has ruled the country since 2002.