French-style presidency: bet you!

In his plane on the way to Qatar, when asked whether the changes that would open the way for a partisan presidency would be sufficient for Turkey to “overcome structural blockage” in the state administration (the question itself of the “journalist” seems to have been prepared by Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself), the president said: “Of course it would. This is the reason why I bring this up. I believe the blockage could be overcome this way.” He continued: “We need to eliminate double-headedness. Otherwise, irrespective of how much you like each other or whether you have a history of working together, problems may arise from time to time. But when you have a partisan presidency, it means you have a different version of the French system.”

I see four possibilities:

1. Mr. Erdogan and/or his advisers have no idea of what a French presidential regime is.

2. Mr. Erdogan and/or his advisers have a vague idea of what a French presidential system is but think that they can construct a system that suits the sultan and present it to Turkish society as the “French system” (like the “French windows” on the new buildings in Turkey that I have never seen in France!). And, as they think that the Turkish public can swallow anything, they don’t care.

3. Mr. Erdogan and/or his advisers know very well the French presidential regime and, thus, they openly lie to the public through their “pool media.” “French style” is a politically correct way to say “North Korean style.”

4. Mr. Erdogan and/or his advisers know very well the French presidential regime and they sincerely want to adopt it. Turkey will need five decades to absorb it (this is acceptable) and, at the end of this, the country will have a democratic system.

Let’s decide together.

In France, since 1981, there has been a slow but constant process of decentralization. The power of the center (and thus the president) is less and less each year. The local democracy works at municipal, greater municipal, departmental and regional level. France is not the France of the Third Republic. Jacobinism is (almost) being abandoned. And thanks to this decentralization, people can have a say in their own life. Local taxes remain at a local level. Local administration is autonomous. In Corsica there is a half-legislative assembly. The concept of “languages of France” allows the existence and education of all local and minority languages, etc. Regions have the possibility to form broader entities with other regions across borders.

The election system of France is a majority vote with two rounds for 577 representatives in 577 districts. This means that deputies are attached to their circumscription and are less bound to the central apparatus of parties. For five years, almost all political parties (except the Front National) operate a pre-election selection based on militant votes. In other words, deputies are first responsible to their districts. Often, they vote against the president’s and/or the government’s will.

In France, historically rooted institutions such as the General Accounting Office (Cour des Comptes), the Supreme Court (Haute Cour — which has the capacity to depose the “resident”), the Constitutional Court (Cour constitutionnelle) and, in general, the Judiciary are autonomous and separated from the executive.

So, if the Turkish president knows this regime, and if he truly wants to adopt it, it means that Turkey will enter a quick decentralization process, that he will let free the checks and balances system (in today’s Turkey, the judiciary and the executive and legislative powers are already in the hands of the president). He will change the election system, he will allow regional autonomy and the re-construction of state institutions, enabling them to condemn him and control the budget.

And still, I think that the French system is far from ideal. For example, since the Chirac reforms, which changed the seven-year presidential term to five years and the president being elected close to the legislative election, I think the French parliament has become less independent and that the president became too strong. I also think that the decentralization is not yet finished and too many powers in France remain at the center. And finally, I think that the evolution of the French system is dangerous for the system itself, especially for subjects such as secularism (France does not recognize or finance any religion, does Mr. Erdogan want that, too?) and the social security system, etc.

In other words, the French system is not perfect at all and I think that maybe President Erdogan wants a system that will be much more decentralized, much more democratic and much more respectful of human rights and of the rule of law where the checks and balances system will be much more effective than in France. We can accept the challenge!