On March 30, 2017, the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C. hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Turkey’s Presidential System Referendum.” The discussion focused on the upcoming referendum taking place on April 16, 2017. Panelists included AK Party Member of Parliament Abdulhamit Gül, one of the main architects of the proposed presidential system in Turkey, and Nebi Miş of the SETA Foundation, one of the foremost experts in Turkey on presidential systems. The panel was moderated by Kilic B. Kanat of the SETA Foundation at Washington D.C.
Dr. Nebi Miş stated that the transformation of Turkey’s presidential system is not about party politics. Instead, he explained that this has been an ongoing discussion for the last several decades. Dr. Miş also noted that decades of coups in Turkey have prevented the progress of democracy and, since 2001, the AKP has been a democratic party pushing reform by the will voters.
Mr. Abdulhamit Gül explained that the current system came after the 12 September military coup and is what the coup members formed for the public. As part of this system, the president has a vast amount of power, but is not responsible to the people. Mr. Gül argued that if the system does not become more transparent, it could lead to crises. The proposed change to the presidential system will ensure that the president is accountable directly to the Turkish people, Mr. Gül further noted.
Mr. Gül also suggested that there is currently no separation of power in Turkey, but instead there is a unity of power. He stated that after the failed coup in July 2016, illegal formations within the Turkish state needed to be countered by democratic reform. The proposed reforms will separate the judiciary from the executive and, under the new system, parties can take presidential decrees to court, creating both parliamentary and judicial checks.
Mr. Gül noted that legislation will be completely separate from the presidency, making it so the president cannot propose or influence laws. After being prompted by an audience question, Mr. Gül explained that the proposed system would entitle both the president and parliament to call for new elections. Under this system, if the president were to call for new elections, it would mean that his or her own role would end and both the president and parliament would go to elections together.
Dr. Miş explained that the goal of Turkey’s proposed presidential system is to prevent the sort of political crises that Turkey has experienced since its formation.
Mr. Gül ended by stating that regardless of the referendum results, Turkey respects its electorate’s choices and the decision will be respected. “We want Turkey to be more democratic, we have proposed reforms for this,” stated Mr. Gül.