The parliamentary system is the ideal administrative arrangement for Turkey. Turkey must institute the necessary reforms for a stronger democracy, while maintaining the parliamentary system and its unitary structure. A look at the sectarian and ethnic conflicts going on in surrounding countries, the communist uprising that has been going on for 30 years in the Southeast, the fact that the culture of democracy is not fully settled in the Middle East and Turkey's ethnic diversity will give a better idea of why changing the system is so risky.
On the other hand, it is also obvious that there are various problems with the existing system and that these need to be fixed. The entire nation wants the new Turkey to be more democratic, free and powerful. However, it is wrong to suggest that a ‘transition to a presidential system is essential’ for the elimination of existing problems. On the contrary, the presidential system is a system that could damage Turkey’s stability and even, may Allah forbid, may lead to a complete break-up.
Thinking along the lines of ‘it is all over and done with’ needs to be avoided on an issue of such close concern to Turkey’s future and the entire nation. Instead, the public should be informed more comprehensively of the risks and dangers involved with the presidential system. Many people who advocate the presidential system today are unaware of what they are really espousing, and merely make statements to the extent of what they have been told. Yet a detailed examination of the structure brought about by the presidential system will show how dangerous it would be for Turkey.
The Dangers of the Presidential System:
1. What makes the presidential system effective is the reinforcement of decentralization, meaning an increase in the authorities of local administrations. That would mean the foundation of an autonomy that the PKK and its allies espouse so insistently. If the door to autonomy is opened, the process will proceed rapidly toward break-up.
2. Therefore, no matter how much people maintain the opposite, a presidential regime will inevitably end in federalism. For Turkey, which has been waging a struggle in the Southeast against the worst communist uprising in the history of the republic, federalism is synonymous with separation and can never be acceptable by no manner of means.
3. In the presidential regime proposed by different circles, changes such as electing provincial governors and giving broad authority to those governors are imposed as well. The fact that there is the pressure of PKK weapons over the free will of the people of the Southeast shows what would come from the election of governors in the region. That would mean breaking up that region and our Kurdish brothers would be left to the mercy of a Stalinist proletarian dictatorship.
4. Looking at those countries which do have a presidential system it is easy to see that it has nothing to do with level of development or democracy; a great many countries in Central and South America, African countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Sudan, Nigeria, Zambia and Sierra Leone, as well as Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Afghanistan are all governed under presidential systems. As can be seen in many of these countries, along with the presidential system comes a predisposition towards anti-democratic practices and authoritarian regimes.
5. The claim that a presidential system establishes stability is not exactly right. While it establishes stability for the government, it might lead to social and political instability.
6. In the event that the president is from one party while another party enjoys a majority in Parliament, frequent disagreements take place between the legislature and the executive, and in societies with no culture of consensus, these disagreements can lead to social tensions.
7. For example, federal salaries were not paid for months due to the disputes between the executive and the legislature in the U.S. in 1995 and 1996, civil servants were given compulsory leave. A similar state of affairs occurred in 2013 as a result of the U.S. government shutdown.
8. For a global superpower such as the U.S., having shutdown may only cause relatively trivial damage. However, such a state of affairs in a developing country such as Turkey would obviously cause severe problems.
9. In addition, the political structure of the US has a culture that has been acting on consensus for centuries, one in which two parties that are not all that radically different to one another predominate and in which ideological views are not that strong. Members from other parties appear in the President’s Cabinet and a common line can be adopted for the national interests. However, there is no developed culture of consensus in Turkey. Blockages occur in the system even during times of coalitions. In such a political culture, when there is disagreement between the executive and the legislature, such problems might lead to impasse faster than in other countries, and crises might occur frequently.
10. It is claimed that the system works faster in the presidential system. Actually, as can be seen in the above examples, disagreements between the executive and the legislature prevent laws from being passed and entirely stall the functioning of government rather than speeding it up.
11. The real problem under a presidential system is how such crises can be overcome. In cases that the president thinks that the national assembly is obstructing him and thus begins governing by decree, this can soon lead to a one-man regime because in such a case, the will of the national assembly would have to be neutralized in order for the executive to function.
12. As is sometimes seen in some Third World countries, the president sometimes uses his right to dissolve the national assembly, and that leads to complete voiding of the national will and the start of a dictatorial regime.
13. Under a presidential system, as in many Latin American countries, there is a very high probability that when disagreements occur the Army will act as a 'conciliator' and get involved. In such a case, democratic functions will be suspended and a military regime will ensue.
14. Other problems may occur if the president and the majority in the national assembly are from the same party. This time, the representation of a large part of the society will not be there, and masses of people who will be convinced that they are not represented properly might start looking for a solution in the streets. In the Middle East, in which street protests easily turn into anarchy, this possibility presents a very serious risk that might completely ruin stability.
15. The presidential system generally results in one party having great power while others suffer major losses; pluralism disappears. While one single party, group or ideology is able to use all the means of the state, the remaining parties and groups are deprived of all such means. That causes fractures in society.
16. The well-known sociologist and political scientist Juan Linz emphasizes that social polarization increases because all those other than the victors are left out of the game. In parliamentary regimes, opposition is included in the system as well. In Turkey, for instance, the existence of parties with different views and grassroots, such as the CHP, MHP and HDP, is a positive thing in terms of diversity and as a means of reducing social tensions. The presence of other parties in the national assembly will represent a source of democratic wealth. However, it will clearly not contribute to democracy in a positive way if the supporters of any of these parties feel that they are not represented.
17. Moreover, it is less than agreeable in democratic terms to force people to choose between two parties. That will do away with diversity and damage confidence on political solutions and the functioning of the state. Voters must not be forced to vote for the left when they are unhappy with the right. There should always be alternative center-right and center-left parties available.
18. The claim that there will not be two heads under the presidential system does not reflect the truth either. The fact that under presidential regimes people vote both for the national assembly (the legislature) and the president (the executive) can lead to both sides eventually stepping up claiming that they have taken their authority from the people and moving away from consensus and thus turn the system into a multi-headed system.
19. Another risk with a presidential regime is that the president’s term in office cannot be shortened. Even if the workings of state are completely blocked and crises loom, the president cannot be removed from office, even if he starts adopting policies which go against the popular conscience. The president can remain in office for years, even in the face of neglect or abuse of office or sickness.
20. The inability to shorten the term in office of the president in many Third World countries is a known precondition for military intervention.
21. In all the countries with a presidential system, the system has been imposed either as the result of war, civil war or a liberation struggle with the guidance of military forces. The military forces who brought down the monarchies imposed presidential systems in France, Argentina, Mexico and Brazil, while America adopted the model after the Civil War. African countries generally adopted such regimes after military coups.
22. The presidential systems installed in almost all Third World countries after 1945 have either turned into single -party regimes or have been the victims of military coups.
23. The political scientist Prof. Scott Mainwaring revealed that there are 31 democracies that had been functioning uninterruptedly for 25 years, as of 1992. Twenty-four (77.4%) of these countries were governed by parliamentary regimes and only four (12.9%) by presidential regimes or three (9.7%) by semi-presidential regimes. It is therefore completely wrong to suggest that a presidential system is a pre-requisite of democracy. (Prof. Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, The Presidential Regime: Turkey Tested by the Threat of a Dictatorial Regime, Turkish Bar Association Publications, p.77)
24. Another study by political scientists reveals another highly significant data. The life span of regimes under parliamentary regimes is 111 years in a multiparty system and 55 years under two-party systems. In presidential regimes, however, the life span is 15 years under multiparty systems and 26 years under two-party systems. (Prof. Dr. Ersin Kalaycıoğlu, The Presidential Regime: Turkey Tested by the Threat of a Dictatorial Regime, Turkish Bar Association Publications, p. 77)
25. According to the annual democracy index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, there are 25 countries in the world deserving the title of full democracies. Only three of these 25 full democracies have presidential systems. More importantly, the number of countries with parliamentary systems in the list of authoritarian countries is exactly 0. To put it another way, the countries in the authoritarian countries list all have presidential systems.
26. Therefore, the U.S. or France are not more democratic or stronger because they have presidential or semi-presidential systems. Neither is it a presidential system that will create democracy in Turkey. The political scientists Mainwaring and Shugart investigated 33 countries with settled democracies in 1972-1994 and revealed that parliamentary regimes were much more efficient in terms of reinforcing democracy. (Scott Mainwaring and Matthew S. Shugart, “Juan Linz, Presidentialism and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal”, Comparative Politics, July 1997, p. 456-460)
27. Another important problem is that the presidential system cannot progress to the healthy application of a top-down model. A change of system in Turkey requires a radical structural change in all sub-institutions. These structural changes will not be enough without cultural maturation.
28. Constitutional Law expert Professor Ergun Özbudun stated that in order for a transition to a presidential system to be possible, more than 40 items in the Constitution would have to be changed, along with hundreds of subsidiary laws and decrees based on that. This change would inevitably lead to great legal turmoil. (A Suggestion for the Prime Minister, Daily Milliyet, 22 April 2010)
29. At a time in which the Middle East and Turkey are going through a very sensitive process, the negative impacts such a deep-rooted transition would have on stability must be considered.
30. The assumption that a presidential system would neutralize the secret state apparatus and bureaucratic oligarchy is not correct either. On the contrary, the bodies initially set up to establish consensus between institutions eventually turn into settled bodies and these bodies act in the light of their respective interests.
In conclusion, given the nature of regime and system change, we must consider the future of Turkey independently of politics. The kind of people that will come to power in the future and the potential conditions that may arise afterwards should also be considered.
The dangers a presidential system poses are clear when looked at in an unbiased manner. Turkey must not be sent down such a risky path, and the parliamentary system and the nation's unitary structure must be strengthened through necessary reforms. Efforts must be made to ensure that Turkey grows and develops undividedly as a whole.
Our forebears and the Ottoman Empire had a system not unlike a presidential one, but unlike the Ottoman Empire, Turkey is not a superpower today. Both Turkey and the region are also going through a critical period. As the central mainstay of the Turkish-Islamic world, our country should be strong and united, and should strongly avoid any situation that might lead to dissolution.
Adnan Oktar's piece on News Rescue: