May 23, 2007


By Soner Cagaptay and Yuksel Sezgin
On May 20, thousands of secular Turks demonstrated in the Black Sea port city of Samsun against the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has an Islamist pedigree. It was the most recent display of protest in a power struggle between the AKP and its opponents over determining a replacement for outgoing president Ahmet Necdet Sezer. In addition to the protestors and Sezer, the courts and the Turkish military have weighed in against the AKP. Far from backing down, as Turkey's Islamists would have done in the past, the AKP has stepped up the pressure by introducing a constitutional amendment package that calls for direct presidential elections to replace the current system of voting in parliament. President Sezer could decide the fate of this package, but the political crisis will continue.

Secular Protests, Constitutional Dilemmas

Secular demonstrations first broke out soon after the AKP government nominated Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as a presidential candidate on April 24. Secular opposition parties then boycotted the presidential voting process in parliament, creating a political deadlock. On May 1, the Turkish constitutional court annulled the first round of presidential elections. The political deadlock has led the AKP to call for early parliamentary elections -- previously scheduled for November -- on July 22.

When the AKP's predecessor, the Welfare Party (RP), was challenged by a secular campaign in 1996–1997, it left office. The AKP has remained stalwart, however, passing the constitutional amendments. In addition, Gul has announced that he will continue his candidacy. Turkey's Islamists seem to have come a long way since then, becoming emboldened and politically savvy. The proposed amendment contains two important articles: (1) instead of the president being elected by the parliament, it calls for the president to be directly chosen by the entire electorate to a five-year term, with the chance of being reelected; (2) it aims to lower the quorum for certain parliamentary sessions, such as those for constitutional amendments, from a two-thirds to one-third majority.

The demonstration in Samsun -- significant as the city where Turkey's secular founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, launched the country's war of independence against occupying powers following World War I -- comes just before President Sezer's impending May 25 decision on the amendment package. According to the Turkish constitution, amendments need the approval of the president to become law. President Sezer received the bill from parliament on May 11 and has two weeks to review it, at which point he can either sign it or send it back to parliament for review. If he sends it back and parliament readopts it, he will then have to either sign it or refer all or some of its contents to a national referendum.

President Sezer and the constitutional court are in a precarious position. If they vote against the package, they face the possibility of public backlash. The politically astute AKP has cast the package as a chance for the Turkish people to directly elect their president -- a very popular position in any democracy. In this regard, most Turks would interpret President Sezer's attempt to block the amendment as the work of the "elite" challenging "popular" will. The same criticism would be leveled against Turkey's secular parties if they stand against the amendment.

The AKP's 'Smart' Approach

Even though the AKP was not voted in by a majority of the Turkish populace, it has held a legislative majority for the past five years. In the 2002 elections, the party received support from just one-third of the populace, but a 10-percent election threshold allocated the seats of smaller parties to the AKP, giving it its legislative majority. The AKP had hoped to use this majority to elect Gul. Now that this strategy has faltered, the AKP perhaps wants to build a real popular majority. With the passing of the constitutional amendments package in parliament, for example, the AKP has cast itself in the role of the party representing the will of the people. Indeed, the party would benefit from any efforts to block the amendment package, since a referendum would be the most likely result. In the July parliamentary elections, the AKP could also transfer public support for the amendment into support for itself.

Indeed, by sending the amendment package to President Sezer, the AKP demonstrated that, unlike the RP in the 1990s, it feels emboldened to take on Turkish secularism. The AKP's confidence is rooted in the lesson it has accurately drawn from 1997, when secular Turks -- political parties, the military, the courts, the business community, and the media -- forced the RP from power: namely, that backing from the business sector and media, as well as steady popular support, is critical to surviving a secular onslaught. The party's pro-business policies, along with the support of the Turkish media (which is mainly owned by large Istanbul businesses), have helped the AKP achieve some of its popular support, at least for the time being.

The AKP's Image Problem

Given the size of the recent anti-AKP rallies, some analysts have wondered why the AKP has not launched rallies of its own. Herein lies the AKP's image dilemma. While the secular rallies covered widely in the international media look similar to protests held in any European city, such as Rome or Lisbon, rallies in which the AKP's core Islamist constituents participate would look more like Ayatollah Khomeini's Tehran. Through its pro-business policies, the AKP has painstakingly created a Western image to show Europe and the United States, but large AKP rallies could easily shatter this façade.

Likely Secular Response

The best gambit for the secular forces would be to not oppose the direct presidential elections amendment. In this regard, Sezer's best bet would be to avoid a referendum and sign the amendment package. This would allow it to become law, at which stage Sezer could take its components, such as the clause that lowers the parliamentary quorum from two-thirds to one-third, to the constitutional court. The court could then scrutinize the quorum clause -- an important potential tool for the AKP, assuming the party has a strong showing in the July parliamentary elections. (Such an outcome looks likely, but most Turkish opinion polls are notoriously unreliable.)

On May 7 and 8, respectively, the Association of Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen (TUSIAD) -- a powerful Istanbul-based lobby -- and the European Union (EU) stated that the constitutional amendments should be considered by a new parliament. TUSIAD has been supportive of the idea of a single-party government as a means of economic and political stability; hence, it has generally not taken issue with the AKP. Similarly, the EU has voiced positive opinions of the AKP. In the constitutional amendments debate, however, secular Turks, President Sezer, and the courts could gain TUSIAD and the EU as allies.

Can the AKP sustain its latest strategy? Assuming that its apparent tactic of political polarization works, other variables could have an impact on the party's public support. For instance, terrorist attacks by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) would hurt the AKP significantly. Alternatively, the party's popularity would be boosted if the United States pressured Iraqi Kurds to extradite into Turkish custody those PKK leaders currently based in northern Iraq. Turkish media reports suggest that U.S. action against the PKK could be forthcoming, though it is not clear whether this action would include the handing over of PKK leaders -- or whether such a handover would be to the AKP or to the Turkish military, which is tasked by Turkish law as the guardian of the country's secular constitution.

Since adopting its current constitution in 1982, Turkey has elected four presidents. Its recent failure to elect a new president could become the country's worst political crisis of the past two decades.

May 17, 2007


The Grand National Assembly fails to elect a new president

On May 1, 2007, the Turkish Constitutional Court (TCC) ruled to annul the first round of presidential elections on grounds that a necessary quorum was not present. According to the interpretation of the high court, the 1982 Turkish Constitution requires the attendance of 367 (2/3 of total number of 550 seats) legislators in the electoral session. Hence, since there were only 357 deputies present in the parliament at the time of the election, the first round was invalidated. The ruling AK Party has responded to the TCC ruling by introducing a number of constitutional amendments that would change the way the president of the Republic is elected. Under the current system, the president is elected by a two-thirds majority of the total number of members (550) within the parliament. If no candidate can achieve to obtain the 2/3 majority in the first two rounds, then a third ballot is held and the candidate who receives the absolute majority of the total number of members is elected president. If an absolute majority is not obtained in the third round, then, a fourth round is held between the two contenders who received the greatest number of votes in the previous round. If an absolute majority is still not found in the fourth round, then the parliament must be dissolved and new general elections need to be held with a hope that the new parliament would be able to elect the president. Since the promulgation of the 1982 Constitution, Turkish Parliament has successfully elected three Presidents without a need to dissolve itself and call for early elections. This is the first time under the 1982 Constitution that a parliament has ever failed to elect a president. Although constitutionally, the electoral process needs to be exhausted as prescribed in Article 102, with the withdrawal of the only candidate Mr. Abdullah Gul, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, the parliament was left with no choice but to dissolve itself and call for early elections on Jul 22, 2007.

In a vindictive mode, the ruling AK Party has proposed to amend the constitution before the elections and change the way the President of the Republic is elected. According to the proposed amendment, the president will be directly elected by the public for a 5-year term with a two-round system. A candidate who obtains the absolute majority of the valid votes in the first round will be elected as president. Following the French model, if no candidate can obtain the absolute majority, the runoff election is to be held on the second Sunday following the first round between the two candidates who received the most votes in the first ballot. The candidate who receives the simple majority of valid votes in the second round will be elected the President of the Republic for a five-year term with a chance to be re-elected. A second major amendment proposed by the AK Party also sets to eliminate the controversy over the required quorum of 367 for certain parliamentary sessions including the presidential elections. If the proposed amendment passes, the parliament will be able to convene with a quorum of one-third of the total number of deputies in the house (184).

Yet, the desire of the AK Party to put two ballot boxes, one for the parliament, and one for the president, in front of the people on Jul 22 election day seems a remote possibility considering the long and thorny constitutional process that the amendment has to go through before it finally becomes a binding legislation. According to the constitution, the amendment bill needs to be approved and signed by the President of the Republic before coming into force. It is highly likely that the incumbent President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who will remain in the office until a new president is elected, will veto the amendment bill and return it to the parliament for reconsideration. If the parliament adopts the draft law referred by the President by a two-thirds majority, the President may submit the law to referendum. Under the law, the President has fifteen days to examine the submitted draft law. Once the readopted law comes back to the President he has another fifteen days to examine it. Yet, if the President still objects the bill, he can submit it to referendum or the general public vote. In the case of constitutional amendments proposed by the AK Party, the President is expected to object the changes and submit them to the public vote. The entire process is estimated to take at least another 5-6 weeks, until the President finally decides to submit the amendment bill to the referendum. Under the law, the referendum need to be held on the first Sunday after the 120 days following the promulgation of the law pertaining to the constitutional amendment in the Official Gazette (One of the objectives of the AK Party is also to reduce this 120-day period to 40 days by amending the relevant legislation). If the package is enacted by the second week of May at the latest, and if the President Sezer vetoes it twice, the earliest date for the referendum will be in October 2007, unless the 120-day period is simultaneously reduced. In the referendum, more than half of the valid votes will be required to consider the proposed amendments approved by people. And only after this long and thorny process is complete, the new President of the Republic can be directly elected by the Turkish people. Under these circumstances, the Presidential Palace will not be able to welcome its new occupant until the end of the year.

Yet another possibility is that if AK Party wins the majority of seats in the parliament on July 22 and if the President separately approves the changes to Article 96 of the Constitution that reduces the necessary quorum to 184, then the AK Party may find it possible to send its own candidate to Çankaya Palace under the existing system while the amendment for the popular election of the president is still waiting for approval in a popular referendum. Considering the fact that the AK Party has simultaneously proposed to reduce the minimum number of legislators who need to be present to hold elections in the parliament from 367 to 184, it may be speculated that this is in fact a back-up plan for AK Party leaders who do not really believe they would be able to pass the amendment bill on time and bring two ballot boxes in front the of people as they often argue in the media.

Does Turkey need a popularly elected president?

Turkey is a parliamentary regime. The President is the symbolic head of the state and government. Compared to presidential systems, his role and function is considerably limited. The authority and responsibility to shape domestic and foreign policy of the nation belongs to the government and the Prime Minister, in particular. In Turkey, only the members of the parliament are directly elected. The government and the President are elected by the members of the parliament, in turn. The electoral system is based on proportional representation (PR) with a 10 percent national threshold. In other words, parties need to receive at least ten percent of the valid votes nationally in order to qualify for representation in the parliament.

The recent constitutional changes proposed by the AK Party are not just simple amendments. They aim to potentially change Turkey’s parliamentary regime and turn it into a semi-presidential or presidential system. The amendment that introduces the idea of popularly elected president is clearly inspired by the French model. Yet, the amendment only proposes to change the way the President of the Republic is elected. It does not propose any changes in duties and powers of the president described in the 1982 Constitution. The so-called constitutional reform was rushed by the events of the last couple weeks and clearly not well elaborated and thought-through. The candidates under the existing law cannot represent parties. Once they declare their candidacy they need to severe their ties to their parties. There is no legal framework that regulates the way presidential campaigns are financed or organized. According to the constitution, the office of the president must be apolitical and neutral. Moreover, it has no power to formulate or execute the national policy. Hence, it is a big wonder what these candidates will stand for or promise to the people during their campaigns.

Moreover, according to the proposed amendment the president will be elected with an absolute majority of valid votes in the first round or a simple majority in the second round. In either case, a presidential candidate will possibly receive at least 20-25 million votes to be elected. In the last general election, Mr. Erdoğan’s AK Party got only 10.8 million votes, and controlled the 66 percent of the parliament. The greatest danger that awaits Turkey is that whether a president who received 25 million votes will easily subdue himself to the will of a government which received only half of what he personally got. What if this president directly confronts the parliament and the government? Turkey does not have the necessary constitutional checks and balances to resolve such crises, yet. What if the president and the government or the parliamentary majority each represents different political camps or ideologies? This will possibly lead to emergence of a bicephalous administration in the country. Turkey has already suffered from many political crises between the incumbent secularist President Sezer and Mr. Erdoğan’s Islamist AK Party within the last 4-5 years. Thus, under the proposed system such constitutional crises will only deepen.

Another problem is that the proposed electoral system for presidential elections introduces majoritarian elements into Turkish politics which everyday becomes more divided and polarized along with ideological, religious, sectarian and ethnic faults. In deeply divided and fragmented societies such as Turkey, majoritarian (winner-take-all) systems only deepen the cleavages and further institutionalize these differences. The proposed system will also rigidify the political process and sharply define the winners and losers. This will further divide the society along ideological lines and make political accommodations more difficult. The huge demonstrations held in various Turkish cities that drew millions last several weeks show that Turkish politics and society is already increasingly polarized and divided. Although it is often refuted by Turkish politicians, there are now two Turkeys. In such an environment, presidential elections will only politicize the office of the president. The first ten presidents of Turkey were the presidents of the republic but the 11th one will be the president of either the Islamists or the Secularists. He will not be the president of the nation. What the country needs is not further polarization or fragmentation but unity and consensus. Thus, the idea of a popularly-elected president will potentially hurt the Turkish democracy. A wrongdoing cannot be undone by another wrongdoing. The hastily-drafted amendment package will further destabilize Turkey’s unstable economy and political system.

If the amendment passes, it would also put Turkey in a unique position among the EU members and candidate nations. Apart from the examples of France and the Greek Cypriot Administration, there are no other countries in the Union ruled by semi-presidential or presidential regimes. The EU can be seen as a community of parliamentary systems. In this respect, Turkey will stand out as another odd case of “presidentialism” within the Union. And, perhaps, the proposed amendments will also affect the country’s bid for full membership negatively and create further complications in its relations with Brussels down the road. Yet, more importantly, the proposed system will cause the Turkish politics to lose its flexibility and make it more prone to political crises. Presidential systems lead to personalization of power and ideological polarization among the people. As the examples of many Latin American nations have demonstrated, these are the most essential ingredients for the rise of authoritarianism. In a country such as Turkey which lacks strong democratic institutions, culture and the tradition of political tolerance, the proposed amendments may soon add Turkey’s name to the long list of nations whose experiment in presidential systems resulted in a political catastrophe. Furthermore, under these circumstances, the Turkish generals who staged a post-modern coup d’état in 1997 and issued a strong-worded warning to the government on their website several weeks ago may be more willing to resort to traditional means and take direct control of the government in order to restore the constitutional order and “protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey”.

May 2, 2007


Son bir kaç haftadır ve özellikle Anayasa Mahkemesi’nin vermiş olduğu karar sonrası bazı kişi ve gruplar Cumhurbaşkanının halk tarafından seçilmesi yönünde görüş bildiriyorlar. Bu yazıda Abdullah Gül’ün adaylığı veya yüce mahkemenin kararının doğru olup olmadığı gibi konulardan ziyade cumhurbaşkanını halkın seçmesine imkan verecek anayasa değişikliğinin ülkemiz için faydalı olup olmayacağına değinmek istiyorum. Kısaca benim fikrim cumhurbaşkanının parlamento içinde uzlaşma ile seçilmesi yönünde. Cumhurbaşkanının halk tarafından seçilmesi basit bir yasa değişikliğinden ibaret değildir. Beraberinde sistem ve hatta rejim değişikliliklerini getirmektedir. Dahası bu yönde bir değişikliğin beklendiğinin aksine Türkiye’de siyasal ve toplumsal bunalımlara yol açma tehlikesi mevcuttur.

Özal’dan Demirel’e, Demirel’den bugün Başbakan Erdoğan’a ve ANAP Lideri Mumcu’ya kadar pek çok siyasi çeşitli vesileler ile Başkanlık Sistemine (BS) geçilmesi veya cumhurbaşkanının halk tarafından seçilmesi yönünde fikir bildirmişlerdir. Bugün Abdullah Gül’ün adaylığına karşı yapılan gösteriler ve tepkilerden sonra Meclis’te kendi adayını seçtiremeyen iktidar partisi de bir çeşit meydan okuma ile “siz ayak oyunları ile seçtirtmediniz, biz halka seçtirteceğiz” demektedir. Maalesef duygusal tepkiler ile bir yanlışın başka bir yanlış ile düzeltilmesi yoluna gidilmektedir. Çözüm parlamenter demokratik sistem içinde aranmalıdır. Cumhurbaşkanının halk tarafından seçilmesi fiilen parlamenter sistemden (PS) başkanlık sistemine geçilmesi sonucuna yol açar ki, bu hiç de arzu edilen bir durum değildir. Neden mi?

Mevcut anayasal düzenimizde halk parlamentoyu seçer, parlamento da kendi içinden başbakan ve cumhurbaşkanını seçer. Seçim sistemimiz nispi temsil (NT) esasına dayalıdır, barajı (% 10) geçen her parti oy oranına nispeten belli sayıda sandalye ile mecliste temsil edilir. Bu demokratik memleketlerin pek çoğunda, Avrupa demokrasilerinin hemen hemen tamamında, hakim olan sistemdir. Her ülke seçim sistemini ve ülke barajını kendi ihtiyaçlarını ve siyasal dengelerini göz önünde bulundurarak düzenlese de özünde hakim olan sistem parlamenter sistemdir. Bir diğer sistem ise başkanlık sistemidir. Başkanlık sisteminde halk başkanı seçer, başkan da kendi kabinesini (parlamento içinden veya dışından) oluşturur. Bu tür rejimlerde seçim sistemi NT değil, çoğulcu sistemlerdir (ÇS). ÇS’de amaç farklı seslerin temsili değil, çoğunluk oyunu alanın diğerlerini yarış dışı bırakarak tüm sistemi kontrol edecek güce sahip olmasıdır. Kısacası başkanlık sistemleri tek adam rejimleridir. ABD’de iki yüz yıldır uygulana gelen sistem başkanlık sistemlerinin en iyi örneğidir.

Pek çok zaman başkanlık sistemlerinin çoğunluk oyu ile kurulmasından, hükümet krizlerine, koalisyonlara yol açmadan yönetime fırsat vermesinden dolayı istikrar rejimleri olduğu iddia edilmiştir. Bugün demokratik olma iddiasında olan ülkelere baktığımızda başkanlık sisteminin sadece ABD’de (ve Fransa’da, ki bu sistem yarı-başkanlık sistemidir ve ABD’den önemli ölçüde farklıdır) başarılı olduğunu söyleyebiliriz. 1960’lardan günümüze dek pek çok gelişmekte olan ülke (Latin Amerika, Afrika, Asya ülkeleri) başkanlık sistemini denemiş, pek çoğunda sistem baskıcı tek adam rejimlerine yol açmıştır. Özetle, BS her zaman her ülkede istikrara katkıda bulunmamakta , tam tersine derin krizlere yol açmaktadır.

Özellikle halkın siyasal, ideolojik, dini, mezhepsel, bölgesel ve etnik faylar uzantısında bölündüğü toplumlarda çoğunlukçu sistemler ciddi bir temsil sorununa yol açmaktadır. BS aynı zamanda kapıları uzlaşmaya da kapatmaktadır. Toplumun aşırı uçlarda, çoğunlukla iki aday ve siyasi görüş doğrultusunda kutuplaşmasına yol açmaktadır (bu Fransa gibi çok turlu çoğulcu sistemler için de geçerlidir). Bu sistemlerde sadece siyah ve beyaz vardır. Ara renkler, gri ve tonları mevcut değildir. Bizim gibi laik-dinci, Sünni-Alevi, Türk-Kürt eksenlerinde bölünmüş demokrasi tecrübesi ve kültürü kıt bir toplumun kutuplaşmaya değil, uzlaşmaya ve birleşmeye ihtiyacı vardır. Cumhurbaşkanını halkın seçmesi bu tür bir kutuplaşmayı beraberinde getirecektir. Unutmayalım ki bu ülke insanların farklı dine mensup oldukları için kurbanlık koyun gibi kesildikleri, farklı mezheplerinden dolayı canlı canlı yakıldıkları, düşüncelerinden dolayı hunharca katledildikleri, yıllarca mahkum edildikleri bir rejimdir. Bu ülkeye başkanlık sistemini getirmek, tüm bu zorluklara rağmen, yeşertmeye çalıştığımız Türk demokrasisine yapılacak en büyük kötülüklerin başında gelmektedir.

Ayrıca 20-25 milyon oy ile Çankaya’ya çıkan bir cumhurbaşkanı köşesine çekilip 8-10 milyon oy almış bir hükümetin ülkeyi yönetmesine (2002’de AKP bile sadece 10,8 milyon oy alabilmiştir) asla seyirci kalmayacaktır. Bizim anayasamız cumhurbaşkanına sınırlı yetkiler tanımıştır. Sembolik olarak idarenin başı olsa da asıl iktidar hükümete aittir. Bugün cumhurbaşkanı gücünü meclisten almaktadır. Ama halkın doğrudan seçtiği bir reis-i cumhur yetkilerini genişletmek isteyecektir. Bu da sürekli meclis ve hükümet ile çatışma riskini doğurmaktadır. Hatta cumhurbaşkanı ve meclis’in farklı ideolojik kamplardan olması durumunda bu çatışma daha da yoğun yaşanacaktır. 20 milyon oy ile gelmiş ‘Laik ‘ bir cumhurbaşkanı 10 milyon oy almış ‘İslamcı’ bir hükümetle (ya da tam tersi durumda) çatıştığı zaman ister istemez bunun bölücü etkileri ciddi şekilde topluma da yansıyacaktır.

Yukarıda ifade ettiğim gibi, bizim ihtiyacımız olan bölünme değil, bütünleşmedir; daha az demokrasi ve diktatörlük rejimi değil daha çok demokrasi ve daha temsili bir rejimdir. Parlamenter rejimler ve özelikle nispi temsil esasına dayalı sistemler çok sesliliğe, uzlaşma ve hoşgörü kültürünün yerleşmesine hizmet etmektedir. Yapılması gereken seçim barajını daha makul seviyelere (% 5-6 olabilir) çekip meclisin temsil gücünü artırmaktır. Yoksa sadece halkın yüzde 50.5’inin seçeceği bir kişiyi Çankaya’ya göndererek anayasal kurumların temsil gücünü azaltmak olmamalıdır. TÜSİAD ve bir takım çevrelerin ürettiği «tek adam, tek parti hükümeti ekonomik istikrarın kaynağıdır» yalanına kulaklarımızı tıkayarak çözümü uzlaşmada koalisyon kültüründe aramalıyız. Örneğin İtalya 1945’ten bu yana sürekli koalisyonlar ile yönetilmesine, ortalama hükümet süresinin 7-8 ay olmasına rağmen dünyanın en önemli ekonomik güçleri arasında yerini başarıyla almıştır. 1948’den beri sürekli koalisyonlar ile yönetilen İsrail diğer bir başarılı örnektir. Diğer taraftan başkanlık sisteminin hakim olduğu onlarca Latin Amerika memleketi iflasın eşiğinden zor dönmüştür.

Özetle reis-i cumhuru yüce meclisimiz kendi içinden uzlaşma ile seçmelidir. Belki de Anayasa Mahkemesi’nin son kararının en önemli katkısı bu yönde olacaktır. Demokrasi uzlaşma rejimidir. Yoksa halkın verdiği yetki ile derebeylik kurma rejimi değil. Demokrasilerde çoğunluk istediği gibi at koşturamaz. Merhum Menderes zamanında DP mebuslarına “siz isterseniz hilafeti de getirirsiniz” demişti. Benzer sözleri 1933 senesine hür seçimler ile iktidara gelen Hitler de Nasyonal Sosyalist partisi temsilcilerine söylüyordu. Demokrasi dayatma rejimi değildir. Aksine demokrasi fren ve denge sisteminden ibarettir. İktidar ve muhalefetin birlikte çalışması ve uzlaşması esasına dayalıdır. Bu noktadan hareketle, yeni dönemde cumhurbaşkanı meclis tarafından, TBMM’nin temsil gücü artırılarak, siyasal ve toplumsal uzlaşı ile seçilmelidir.