Powerful president = co-chair system

There are so many scenarios being tossed around because there are no rules in this game. If rules change before the game even starts, and if it is possible that rules may change after the game starts, the possible outcomes will multiply. Politics is a game of power in Turkey, as it is anywhere around the world. Those who hold the power set the rules of the game. Thus, a surprising outcome is no longer seen as surprising.

We are no longer discussing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential candidacy. We have gone one step beyond this to talk about the increasing powers and authorities he will employ. With Erdogan’s powerful leadership, Turkey is preparing for a transition to a de facto semi-presidential system. For the first time, the public will directly elect the president. But if the president’s powers and authorities remain the same, how will the de facto expansion of these powers and authorities be possible? The answer is the same: The rules will be changed again. Okay, but how? The question is not solely about the presidency. We need to focus on the prime minister as the heart of the executive, with which these powers and authorities will be shared.

The de facto situation will be made possible not by expanding the president’s powers and authorities defined in the Constitution, but by rendering the prime ministerial post ineffectual. The new game plan will weaken the prime minister vis-à-vis the president. When the prime minister becomes ineffective, the president will fill the resulting gap.

As everyone is certain about who will become the next president, this raises the question of who will become the next prime minister. The names that come to mind at first thought are Ahmet Davutoglu, Ali Babacan, and Numan Kurtulmus. Mehmet Ali Sahin and Bulent Arınc have also been mentioned as candidates for the transition period. When Erdogan’s voice became strained and he couldn’t speak during the rally in Konya in the last election campaign, Davutoglu took to the stage in his place. This was seen by many as an important sign. Davutoglu is favored by intellectual members of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party). However, the first possibility that comes to mind is generally the least likely possibility. It is up to Erdogan to decide. And his decision will certainly try to make sure that he has a powerful presidency.

The co-chair system fits like a glove on Erdogan’s plans for a powerful presidency. With an amendment to the political parties law, the “co-chair” system introduced by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to the political system was legalized. The BDP uses this co-chair system to balance and control intra-party power. They implement the same system in the municipalities they control. This system of assigning leaders to an organization creates a delicate counter-balance against external control instead of warding off authoritarian tendencies. In short, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) illegal political figures can exert tight control over the BDP’s policies using this system.

The first scenario for the AK Party is the one in which Davutoglu becomes the prime minister and Kurtulmus controls the party as the co-chair. Both are powerful politicians. Leaving two powerful politicians behind as Erdogan’s successors is desirable. When he was elected as president, Turgut Ozal had left behind a weak party leader and prime minister. However, this scheme played into the hands of rival parties. It seems that Erdogan learned a lesson from Ozal’s blunder. He intends to leave behind a powerful leader so that his party can continue to become competitive. But this powerful leader will not be one, but two people. By pitting two powerful figures against each other, he will emerge as the prime authority over them. Erdogan also initiated a discussion about the ban on AK Party deputies’ being elected for more than three consecutive terms, and he intends to use this as trump card in the game.

He gives messages about a “powerful presidency,” one after another, and he has similar plans in his mind. Of course, the success of these plans is dependent on his winning the election. It’s all or nothing and, this time, Erdogan may lose it all in his own game.