Editor’s Note: Selina Ozuzun Dogan is a member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly from the Republican People’s Party. She is campaigning for a no vote in Turkey’s referendum on constitutional reform Sunday. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
Ever since last summer’s failed attempt to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country has been sliding toward a seemingly inevitable presidential system.
The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has since deliberately discredited and paralyzed Turkey’s parliament.
None of the opposition’s propositions in parliament have even been considered. Our parliament has instead been used as a voting machine to impose the AKP’s agenda.
In the aftermath of the failed coup, the government declared a state of emergency. Nine months have passed, and now, under these extraordinary circumstances, the country faces a referendum on constitutional reform this weekend.
Ever since its implementation, the AKP has abused the state of emergency, making permanent decisions through decree laws.
Erdogan has lost any sense of impartiality since the June 2015 elections, which saw the AKP lose its parliamentary majority, forcing him to call a second snap election four months later. He is now acting only in his own party’s interests.
He is using the state of emergency to control the media, the judicial system, Turkey’s parliament and the bureaucracy.
That, perversely, is why supporters of his referendum are saying that Turkey needs to vote yes: to legalize what has become a de facto presidential system.
Democracy means having checks and balances. If the referendum passes, there will eventually be none.
The referendum campaign has given us an idea of what we can expect if Turkey does vote yes. Erdogan has painted those who oppose his reforms as supporters of the PKK, or as being in league with Fethullah Gulen.
My party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, which opposes the referendum, is not claiming that Turkey’s parliamentary system is perfect – indeed we would like to see improvements that allow for more stable government.
But making these improvements will not be possible unless we have a healthy separation of powers that allows parliament to hold the President to account and forces the President to act impartially.
Here is why I will be voting no Sunday:
A true, democratic, presidential system relies on a separation of powers.
The legislature, the executive and the judiciary must be completely separated with a system of checks and balances between them.
What the AKP is proposing is that all of these powers are concentrated in the hands of one person: The President of the republic. This system is not a presidential system. This is a dictatorship.
Despite its flaws, Turkey at present is a democratic republic. The amendments proposed by Erdogan do not aim to repair our democracy – rather they will give the President total power with no one to restrain him.
Presidential elections are not in themselves a sufficient mechanism for granting total power to a head of state.
The President is elected by winning a majority of votes. This means he or she might be elected by less than 51% of the people.
As he or she has party political ties, it’s obvious he or she will represent a certain political view – not the people as a whole.
The Grand National Assembly of Turkey, our parliament, is comprised of members from both ruling and opposition parties, so more accurately represents the country as a whole. This means that parliament can scrutinize the President’s actions through the prism of what we deem to be in the interests of the people whom we represent in parliament.
Under the existing system, executive duties are shared between the President and the Council of Ministers (the Prime Minister and ministers). The Council of Ministers has executive responsibility.
Under the proposed system, executive powers are entitled to the President of the republic. The act of governing is given to the President alone.
If Turkey votes yes this weekend, the Office of the Prime Minister will be repealed. The Council of Ministers will also be repealed. Their ministries will no longer exist.
The President will be allowed to appoint vice Presidents at his own discretion, with no parliamentary approval required. He will also become nearly impossible to hold to account – to impeach a President, the constitution requires that one third of parliament propose the impeachment and three quarters approve it. But with no Prime Minister and the President acting as chair of the majority party, the President himself will control the parliamentary group, making the necessary numbers impossible to achieve.
As President of the republic with political party ties, he will nominate candidates for parliament and therefore change the composition of the assembly.
He will also be able to design the judiciary as he sees fit: appointing the members of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors himself.
If Turkey votes yes this weekend, not only will a president who has abused his state of emergency and cracked down any political opposition be immediately handed more power than any other democratically elected leader, he will also be given the authority to change the state around him in a way that will strip its ability to hold him to account.
Before voting Sunday, Turkish people must ask themselves, however they are dissatisfied with the current state of Turkish democracy, they would be happier giving it up and handing total authority to one untouchable man?