Right after the general elections of June 2011, thanks to which the current Turkish Parliament convened, there was a particular hope in the air: the drafting of a new, “civilian” and liberal Constitution, in order to replace the current one which was devised by a military junta in 1982. The four main parties had entered Parliament, giving it a high level of representation, and civil society was cheering up for a new national charter.
Yet soon, it turned out that this was no easy task. And the main obstacle was no conspiracy by an ever-present “deep state.” It was rather the simple fact that Turkish political parties have many irreconcilable differences, and a confrontational language that prevents them from reaching a consensus even on basics.
As if these problems were not enough, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan added a new one: his ambition to transform the Turkish political system from its parliamentary structure to a presidential one. He started promoting this idea actively about a year ago, and it soon turned out that this was his main expectation from the “civilian Constitution.”
A few weeks ago, senior names in Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) outlined the details of this new system that they propose: They basically want to combine the two top seats in today’s Turkey, the presidency and the prime ministry, into a single seat of an all-powerful president, who will be popularly elected. Moreover, this “Turkish style” president will have super-powers that will make American presidents all too jealous, such as the power to veto the laws made by Parliament.
In short, if such a presidency is really created, it will be the most authoritative political seat in Turkey since that of Atatürk – whose power was, in all senses, totally unlimited.
We might wonder why Erdoğan is so interested in creating such an all-powerful post. Yet we don’t have to be rocket scientists to find an answer: Erdoğan wants the job for none other than himself. All indicators show that he wants to run for the presidency in 2014, when the term of the current president, Abdullah Gül, will end. Apparently, his dream is to win the presidency, the term of which is five years, two times in a row and thus rule Turkey until 2024.
Now, here is my take: Erdoğan might of course have his political ambitions. It is in the nature of political leaders to act with what Christian thinker St. Augustine called “libido dominandi,” or power lust. But we cannot change the whole political system of Turkey simply in order to make it fit to the ambitions of a political leader!
The defenders of the presidential system, of course, argue that this is not tailored for Erdoğan, but is needed for stability and efficiency. They also point out that a transition to such a system already began in 2007, when a constitutional amendment that turned the presidency into a popularly elected post was passed by a referendum. But none of these arguments offer any solution to the risk of creating and all-powerful presidency with few checks and balances.
Finally, a note to those who will see in all this proof of the AKP’s “hidden Islamist agenda” and its way to Shariah. No, the problem we face here is not Islamism, or any other ideology. It is simply lust for power. And it is such a big pity that the AKP allows this toxic urge to overshadow all the major achievements it had in the past decade.
(Mustafa Akyol is a columnist at Hurriyet Daily News, where this article was first published Dec. 26, 2012)