The constitutional situation regarding the presidency in Turkey has now, finally, been clarified.
As reported previously, the constitutional reform of 2007 left a number of questions unanswered. Most notably, the president’s term was shortened from seven to five years. So, did the shorter term apply to President Gül, who was elected by parliament just a couple of weeks before the constitutional amendment?
Some clarification was provided earlier this year when a law was passed that allowed President Gül to serve for seven years i.e. until 2014.
The Constitutional Court has now issued a seemingly definitive ruling. President Gül is allowed to serve for seven years. He is also allowed to run again in 2014, though, if elected, his second term would be only five years.
The report is available in Hürriyet Daily News.
Turkey has finally decided one of the most important elements of its move to semi-presidentialism. In late January, the Law on Presidential Elections was passed. This law gives some substance to the 2007 constitutional reform that formally changed Turkey to a semi-presidential regime.
The question at stake was how long is the term of the incumbent president Abdullah Gül. In 2007 parliament elected him for a seven-year term. However, just a couple of months after his election, the constitution was amended to make provision for a directly elected president who served for a maximum of two five-year terms. So, when was the next presidential election due, 2014 or 2012?
According to Hürriyet Daily News, the new law confirms that President Gül’s term ends in 2014. In other words, consistent with the situation in other places, notably France, the change in the term is not being applied retrospectively.
In Turkey the June legislative election easily returned the ruling AKP but with insufficient deputies to change the constitution unilaterally in parliament. So, the opposition CHP party has, in theory, the potential to shape or at least veto different elements of the constitutional reform process.
The CHP has now issued an 18-page document identifying the issues that it considers to be important in the process. Hürriyet Daily News has details. One of those issues is its opposition to a presidential system, which is commonly thought to be on the AKP’s wish list.
It is not obvious what all parties mean by a presidential system. Some understand it as the current system but with a more powerful president, meaning a semi-presidential system with a strong president. Others understand it as a US-style presidential system. Yet others understand it as any system with a directly elected president. So, when the CHP says that it is opposed to a presidential system, the implications of that position are not clear in the article.
The CHP document seems to oppose just about any proposal that the AKP is likely to put forward. So, it is not clear whether they are going to try to stop any reform or whether they are going to bargain on certain key issues and sacrifice others.
In Turkey the legislative election was held on Sunday. The turnout was 86.7%. Here is the result:
Justice and Development Party (AKP) – 49.9%, 326 seats (-15)
Republican People’s Party (CHP) – 25.9%, 135 seats (+23)
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – 13%, 53 seats (-18)
Independents – 6.3%, 36 seats (+9)
Note, the Independents are all or mainly members of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). There is a 10% national threshold for political parties to gain representation. However, independents can be elected at the local level. Therefore, the BDP candidates stood as independents to circumvent the high national threshold.
The vote for the CHP increased by 5% from 2007. However, the ruling AKP has been easily returned. Its vote was up by 3% compared with 2007, though it won slightly fewer seats. This last point might be crucial. To change the constitution unilaterally in parliament (a referendum would still then be required) the AKP needed 330 seats. So, even though the AKP has done very well, the result may hinder its plans for constitutional change, which include reforming the presidency.
The Turkish governing party, the AKP, is about to embark on another period of constitutional reflection. The recent referendum was seen as a ‘dry run’ for perhaps more wide-ranging reform. Given the referendum was successful, the way is now clear for more profound changes to be considered. Indeed, the idea of a new constitution is being debated.
Hürriyet Daily News is reporting that three particular issues are to be discussed when the AKP has a ‘think-in’ next month: whether or not Turkey should adopt a presidential system, President Abdullah Gül’s tenure, and the date of the general elections.
The debate over whether or not to introduce a presidential system has been rumbling for some time. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is in favour, whereas, in a separate article, Hürriyet Daily News reports that President Abdullah Gül is warning against such a system. He believes there should be a new constitution, but that a presidential system should not be adopted.
The issue of President Gül’s tenure is interesting. As reported in the very first post on this blog, the 2007 reform reduced the president’s term from seven years to five years. However, the reform was passed a few months after Gül was elected. So, the question is whether he should serve for a seven-year term or a five-year term.
If there is to be a new constitution, then the likelihood is that it will be presented after the 2011 legislative election and only if the AKP is re-elected, which looks probable. The election is due to take place in the summer and may be delayed or brought forward slightly for that reason.
A constitutional referendum was held in Turkey on Sunday. There was a single vote on a large number of changes. The referendum was held because parliament failed to generate a two-thirds majority in favour of the various reforms. There is a nice article in Wikipedia about the parliamentary vote.
The majority of the reforms concerned the judicial process. There is a brief resume of the changes here. The English version of the changes is available in full here.
The referendum was passed. The Turkish Electoral Commission is reporting the following result:
The interpretation of the result is interesting. The EU has welcomed the result, saying that the reforms helped the country’s application for membership. However, the reforms were opposed by the opposition to the ruling AKP party, arguing that they would strengthen the party’s hold over power.
None of the reforms related directly to the country’s semi-presidential constitution, but the fact that the AKP in effect ‘won’ the referendum means that the semi-presidential system is unlikely to be reformed again at least for the time being. Indeed, given the result is seen as an AKP victory, the likelihood is that the first direct presidential election will go ahead as planned probably in 2012.
I don’t have much time today, so I am just pointing anyone interested in the direction of two newspaper articles on the Turkish president. Both are from the newspaper Hürriyet, which, it should be understood, is not a particularly pro-AKP publication. (The AKP is the president’s party). However, the articles are not overly partisan.
The first report provides an overview of President Abdullah Gül actions in office since his election in 2007. It points out that President Gül has not acted as an ‘executive leader’, but that he has been restrained. We would probably not have expected very much else, given the president does not have many constitutional powers relative to some other semi-presidential presidents. However, the overview is interesting, I think.
The second report speculates as to whether the next presidential election scheduled for 2012 will result in a period of cohabitation. The interest lies not so much perhaps in the speculative content, but in the fact that a Turkish commentator explicitly discusses Turkey in the context of other semi-presidential countries and that term ‘cohabitation’ is openly used. Hear, Hear to both points.
This is not an April Fool!
Turkey held local elections on 29 March. The results were somewhat of a setback for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) party.
Hurriyet Daily News reports that unofficially the AKP won around 38% of the vote for the provincial assemblies. The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is reported to have won around 23%. This marks a decline of about 8% for the AKP in relation to last year’s legislative election and a increase of about 2% for the social democratic CHP.
Turkish Weekly provides the following figures (larger parties only):
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 17.1
Democratic Left Party (DSP) 3.0
Democratic Society Party (DTP) 5.0
Republican People’s Party (CHP) 22.1
Grand Unity Party (BBP) 2.4
Democratic Party (DP) 4.3
Felicity Party (SP) 5.1
Justice and Development (AK) Party 38.6
In most of the bigger cities, the AKP held on to the city councils, and the mayors, but usually with a considerable fall in support. In Ankara, the long-standing AKP mayor won re-election but saw his vote fall from 55% to 38%. Here, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party won 27%. In Istanbul the AKP mayor was returned, but the party won 44%, again down on previous elections.
One issue that comes up quite a bit in my research is when to begin counting a country as semi-presidential. I already alluded to this point in the posting on Turkey. Is Turkey now semi-presidential even though the current president was elected by parliament and even though he may be in office for five, or even seven years, until the first direct election takes place? I think we should count Turkey as semi-presidential now because the constitution has been changed and the definition used here relies solely on constitutional provisions. However, doing so means that we can have cases of semi-presidentialism where there has never been a direct presidential election.
Take Austria. In December 1928 Wilhelm Miklas was elected as president by parliament. In December 1929 the constitution was amended to include the direct election of the president. In 1934, the constitution was amended again and the direct election of the president was removed. In the meantime, democracy collapsed. For Polity, the last full year of democracy was 1932. So, the Austrian constitution was semi-presidential from 1929-34, but there was no direct presidential election in this period.
Another case is Burkina Faso. In 1970, a new semi-presidential constitution was adopted for the then Upper Volta. As far as I can tell, this system lasted until 1974. In this period there was no presidential election.
Another interesting example is Brazil from 1961-63. I will do a much fuller post about Brazil at some future date. For now, though, the presidential system was changed to a pure parliamentary system by a constitutional amendment in September 1961 only for the presidential system to be restored in January 1963. In this period there was no presidential election under the new system. So, for a short time Brazil had a directly elected president operating in a parliamentary constitution.
I count Brazil as parliamentary in this period in the same way that I count Austria and Burkina Faso (Upper Volta) as semi-presidential from 1929-34 and 1970-74 respectively. However, if one were to decide that a country only became semi-presidential at the point when the first direct presidential election occurred, then Austria and Burkina Faso (Upper Volta) would not be classed as semi-presidential and Brazil would be semi-presidential from 1961-63.
Turkey has joined the list of countries with semi-presidential constitutions.
Following the Grand National Assembly’s failure to elect a president in April 2007, the ruling AKP party proposed a set of constitutional changes, one of which was the direct election of the president. The referendum to approve the changes was held in October 2007 and a large majority – nearly 69% – voted for the reforms, which also included the reduction of the president’s term from 7 to 5 years.
In the meantime, Turkey held a general election. In July 2007 the AKP was returned to power and in August 2007, following the general election but prior to the referendum, the Grand National Assembly did elect a new president, Mr Abdullah Gül, from the AKP party. There is now a debate as to whether President Gül will serve a 7-year term prior to the first direct election, or whether he will apply the new 5-year term to himself. It seems that, constitutionally, he could serve until 2014 before the first direct election.
There are some similarities between constitutional events in Turkey and equivalent events in other countries in the past. In Weimar Germany the first president was elected by parliament in February 1919. The Weimar constitution, which made reference to the direct election of the president, was formally passed in August 1919. However, the first direct election was not held until March/April 1925. This was slightly less than the original 7-year term and was the result of a constitutional law passed in October 1922. Similarly, in France the constitution was amended in 2000 to reduce the president’s term from 7 to 5 years. However, the reduction of the mandate did not apply to President Chirac’s first term (1995-2002), but only to his second (2002-2007) – the first full term after the reform had been passed.