Turkey’s April 16 Referendum Choice: ‘Yes’May 05, 2017
On April 16, 2017, the Turkish electorate was asked whether they wanted to transform the system of government in to a presidential one and the majority answered in the affirmative. As many as 51.4 percent of the people voted “YES” to the constitutional changes needed, while 48.6 percent voted against. The last few months saw supporters of both sides campaign to their heart’s content, turning the country’s streets in to mobile debating platforms, where, apart from a few isolated instances, people were free to propagate whatever they believed.
Until 2014, the president, the head of state, was selected by Parliament, usually after much negotiation among party leaders. There were times when parties were incapable of agreeing on a particular individual, resulting in deadlock. The 1980 military coup came after the Parliament of the day could not choose a president after 124 rounds of voting.
The president was an official without any political mandate and without any executive authority but with enough power to hamper actions taken by the executive branch, headed by the prime minister. The 1982 Constitution, drawn up under the supervision of the coup leaders, essentially transformed the post of the president as a check to the power of the elected politicians. In the 1980s, Kenan Evren, the head of the coup, took over the post and made sure the elected government did not stray too far from the narrow confines set by the military. The judiciary, as well, was structured
in a way to clamp down on any initiative from elected officials. No wonder, when politicians Turgut Özal and Süleyman Demirel became presidents in the 1990s, seen as “the lost decade,” the era was fraught with political infighting and one crisis after another. This experience fostered the belief that presidents need to be chosen from outside the political establishment.
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a retired judge, proved this wrong. Chosen by the party leaders, Sezer first instigated a constitutional crisis with the coalition government, which was the trigger for the devastating 2001 economic crisis, and after the collapse of the coalition and the founding of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government in late 2002, was known more for becoming an obstacle to many government policies.
After the crisis over the election of the president in 2007, with the military openly warning against the election of the AK Party’s candidate, Abdullah Gül, a constitutional amendment was made to allow the election of the president directly by the people. This also removed the risk of a possible parliamentary deadlock.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the first directly elected president in the history of the Republic in 2014. However, this created a difficult quandary, where both the president and the prime minister had a clear public mandate with considerable powers.
Amendments approved on April 16 fuse the posts of the president and the prime minister to allow for a more functioning, streamlined and effective governing mechanism with the legislative branch and the judiciary acting as checks. The governability defect inherent in the former system prevented parties that were elected by the people to properly work, forcing many leaders to spend more time politicking rather that governing. It is no surprise that only during one-party governments that Turkey made significant economic and social progress while multi-party governments produced nothing but stagnation and disorder. The presidential system is crucial for the
execution and maintenance of the many democratic, social and economic reforms Turkey desperately needs but cannot execute due to the constant parliamentary logjam.
This booklet is a technical summary of the new system of government, which will be instituted within the next few years, and a comparison with the one it replaces.