This is the most misleading thesis in the presidential system debate. Some argue Erdoğan will introduce a presidential system to become the first president. In political parlance, what you say is generally not what you mean. Erdoğan is currently occupied with his works of “mastery.” For this reason, we should not go after the comments that currently fill the comment-o-sphere. What is at stake: the presidential system, or something else?
To search for something else, the following question may serve as a good starting point: Does Turkey have the physical or systemic infrastructure to enable it to transition to a presidential system? Politics is the art of effectively using capabilities. You have to go after what is possible instead of what you wish for or what you think is right. What is impossible is usually used to make what is possible more possible.
The current composition of Parliament makes it impossible to introduce a presidential system. Even if Erdoğan wants it and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) lends full support to it, this is not enough to make a transition to a presidential system possible. This is a matter of math. The AK Party lacks the necessary parliamentary seats to refer the matter of transitioning to a presidential system to a referendum. Thus, the other three parliamentary parties would have to lend support to it. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) is experiencing existential problems with presidential systems. It is virtually impossible for a CHP member to be elected as president in a presidential system in the foreseeable future. Therefore, even if it can secure major concessions from the AK Party, the CHP will never come to terms with the AK Party with respect to a presidential system. The CHP will not support even the reinforcement of the president’s status in a parliamentary system.
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has announced its stance about the matter. The MHP does not see a presidential system as a vital or crucial matter. But if Turkey introduces a presidential system, the MHP would be a main opposition party restricted to the legislature, and it would quickly be marginalized. As can be seen in countries that have implemented this system, a presidential system concentrates political competition on two main poles. The MHP would be left between the CHP and the AK Party, and it would soon melt away.
There remains the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Can the BDP lend support to a presidential system? Surprisingly, a presidential system would offer good opportunities for this party, which currently represents the sharpest opposition in Parliament. As a presidential system re-establishes the balance between the center and local administrations with an emphasis on the president, this creates an atmosphere suitable for federalism. Thus, a presidential system provides the most suitable conditions for the BDP’s democratic autonomy demands.
But can the AK Party introduce a presidential system with the BDP’s backing? Would the AK Party accept cooperation that would eventually legitimize the BDP’s tendency to go autonomous?
Our region is now in a state of chaos. How the Syrian tragedy will be solved will redefine the Middle East. The regional Kurdish government is now pursuing a stronger federal administration. Moreover, it is receiving Turkey’s support in this regard. This means that the constitution debate that aims to build a new system and future has parallels in regional developments. Turkey’s ties with Damascus and Arbil will be different if there is a president at its helm.
Turkey is experiencing the concrete gains of stability that have been going on for the last 10 years. This stability must continue. This is the main factor that will guide the quest for a new system, as well as people’s tendencies in this regard. Will Turkey be able to maintain this stability with a presidential system?
With a president to be elected directly by the public, Turkey will automatically move closer to a semi-presidential system. Erdoğan will be the first president of such a system. But the likelihood of his becoming the first president of a presidential system is very weak.