It has been rather unlucky for the AKP to have the presidential controversy re-launched so soon after the elections. For putting this item on the agenda before it has had a chance achieve social maturity only plays into the hands of anti-AKP propaganda. Some adherents of the AKP may think that keeping it centre-stage might promote a society-wide debate, but they are mistaken. Broaching the subject in untimely fashion places the problem of a political system on weak and shifting ground, and triggers a particularly superficial and manipulative discussion. Hence an early warning is in order: The presidential system is the topic that the AKP’s adversaries love the most! It is the one topic that most lends itself to the claim that the AKP harbors “evil” intentions. So if Turkey fails to adopt the presidential system in the future, the responsibility will rest largely on the AKP adherents’ own shoulders.
For if the process were to be managed properly, it is highly possible for a majority of society to approve of the presidential system. The current public support of only one-third is actually extremely reasonable, and implies a warning for the AKP. At the moment nobody knows anything about the specifics of the intended presidential system, what sort of shared powers and responsibilities it is going to embody, how it is going to be made accountable, and what advantages it is going to entail for the country. Hence, no-one should expect this society to provide blind support for it. Furthermore, the fact that the presidential system is being defended and promoted directly by the current presidency is probably being regarded as “not quite chic” by as much as a third of the AKP constituency.
There are a few “technical” details that should first be underlined vis-à-vis this impending debate. There is no question of directly tackling and changing the political system. First the constitution will have to change, and then, in line with the principles of governance set out in the constitution, there will ensue a search for a political system. In other words, whether it is going to be a parliamentary or a presidential system, this is not going to have any bearing whatsoever, implicitly or as a direct imposition, a fait accompli, on establishing the spirit of the constitution. Secondly, it is going to take at least two years for a new constitution to emerge. For a society like Turkey that has yet to transcend an ideological narrative of history, it is not going to be at all easy to debate the preamble to the constitution. Given that any new constitution is likely to depend on the CHP’s cooperation, this is likely to turn out to be even more complicated. And even if this stage were somehow to be overcome, within the limits set by the new constitution it will still be possible to propose very many political systems, so that we are likely to be confronted with a good-to-bad range of proposals both for a parliamentary and a presidential system.
Various groups or sections of society are going to be comparing and debating all these proposals, trying to understand them, and then adopting their position. Throughout, it will be necessary for the AKP to pursue a “serious” line in setting out an alternative conforming with universal norms. The AKP must be able to explain in convincing fashion the importance of the presidential system in completely doing away with the danger of a military-bureaucratic regency. It should be able to emphasize, patiently and repeatedly, that it is not a matter of a vulgar demand for “doing quick business” (with all its connotations of non-accountability), but of re-defining the logic underlying the Republic in accordance with the preferences of the people and the requirements of civilian politics. At the same time, it should declare beforehand that if the people should reject this alternative, the party will embrace and adopt whatever the outcome may be.
The November elections demonstrated that if the AKP does the right things this is going to be recognized and rewarded by society. So with regard to the presidential system, too, everything depends on proper behavior. It is now the government’s call. But it must be able to operate with a free hand, and not be undermined through a variety of irresponsible acts committed out of “love for Erdoğan.” It is rather ironic that if the campaign for a presidential system is axed on Erdoğan, it has very little chance of success. If it ever comes down to an absurd dichotomy of “either no presidential system, or no Erdoğan as president,” it will be the AKP itself that is to blame.