Some oppose it just because they are afraid of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies, and others oppose it just because their party will never win a presidential race. As usual there are only a few people who have a principled stance on the issue and are interested in the crux of the matter. Thus, the AKP’s justification of strengthening Parliament should be taken seriously.
Let me first express what I shall say at the end: I believe that some AKP members, not all of them, of course, want to have a presidential system not for its benefits for democracy but to find a good position for Erdoğan since he has to leave Parliament and thus the Prime Ministry as he has consistently promised. He is still young and at the pinnacle of his power, so a semi-retirement presidency with its current very limited power and role would bore him. If the AKP is really concerned about the risks of the fusion of powers and the weakness of Parliament, now it has all the power and opportunity to strengthen Parliament without even needing any constitutional changes.
With the exception of the US, in consolidated liberal democracies the Westminster system is prevalent. Some would argue that this slows down the processes where quick action is needed. Actually, there is not much difference in this regard between a parliamentary system and a presidential system. The executive branch is slowed down by the legislative. But this is done on purpose. The state machinery is so strong that in order to prevent its mistakes, delays are preferred. Democracy is a slow but safer mechanism. Otherwise, reasonable people would prefer very quick dictatorships. Moreover, the executive is more limited in the American example. Obama’s power is limited compared to what Erdoğan has at the moment. Obama cannot even appoint an ambassador without the Senate’s approval. So, the search for a more efficient executive branch cannot be the reason why some AKP members are so enthusiastic about the presidential system. So, let us look at the strengthening-the-legislative-branch justification.
If the AKP wants to strengthen Parliament it could do it right now. All it has to do is to change the Political Parties Law and the Election Law. We could simply copy the British system or a different mixture where about 100 deputies are elected from the party headquarters’ list to ensure that women, minorities, academics, experts, the handicapped, etc., could also be elected, as these people would not normally have much of a chance in narrow, single-member districts. Thus, while 100 are elected from the central lists, 450 would be elected from single-member districts. The pre-selection of the candidates must be left to the parties’ local branches, and the party headquarters must have very minimum leverage or power in this selection process. If this could be done, you would see that the iron law of oligarchy or the party leaders’ authoritarian powers would fade away, and people’s demands would be much more important. Only then would we be able to start talking about a proper democracy in Turkey -- not a superficial electoral one. As I said, these changes can be done without any constitutional changes, and if the AKP is serious about strengthening Parliament it must make these changes as soon as possible. Then, we can start talking about having leaders elected by the people, not appointed by the central government.