Why Erdogan’s dream should be crushed

On June 7, Turkey will face one of its most important elections in decades.

At the epicenter sits President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his dream of creating a presidential system of governance. Erdogan claims such a system would strengthen democracy and speed up reform. I would beg to differ. Rather, it risks being used to consolidate power and leave the country with an extremely weak system of checks and balances.

These days Erdogan is busy making speech after speech promoting the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). It is business as usual during elections campaigns, which are always a circus. However, the president is not supposed to be part of election campaigns. As stated in Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution, the president must carry out his activities without bias. His open campaigning for the AKP therefore violates the Constitution. Furthermore, according to the same article, the president is also assigned with, “Safeguarding the rule of law, democracy, the principles of the secular Republic, not to deviate from the ideal according to which everyone is entitled to enjoy human rights and fundamental freedoms under conditions of national peace and prosperity and in a spirit of national solidarity and justice.” To say there has been a deviation from these principles would be an understatement. The separation of power, rule of law and fundamental freedoms has been dangerously eroded.

Presidential systems have a bad reputation in developing countries such as Turkey and require strong justification. Erdogan has been busy explaining to the nation why Turkey should not be afraid. He has rejected claims that the adoption of the presidential system will abolish the separation of powers in Turkey, stating this principle will be “truly implemented” in the new system. Unfortunately, it is difficult to believe this given the democratic backtracking and consolidation of power over the last few years. While clearly Erdogan has his loyal support base, there is no hiding the fact that millions of Turks do not identify Erdogan as a democrat but as an increasingly authoritarian figure whom they believe is predominantly interested in prolonging his rule and consolidating his own power in a way that is usually associated with the leaderships of Central Asia, not a NATO member and EU candidate.

Fears about Erdogan’s plans have been exacerbated most recently by the new security law, which gives the police wide powers, including making it easier for them to use deadly force. Metin Bakkalci, secretary general of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TiHV), states that “freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are being abolished,” while the Istanbul Bar Association has counted more than 80 trials against activists, cartoonists and journalists accused of insulting Erdogan since he became president. A president needs to be tolerant, inclusive, fully support the rule of law and have democratic values at the forefront of his rule and policies. Erdogan has none of these credentials therefore, increasing his power could potentially be very dangerous indeed.

Thankfully, achieving his dream will not be easy. The “easiest” way is for the AKP to take 400 seats — a two-thirds majority — in the June election. Clearly, this will be difficult. Even at the height of their popularity, the AKP has not done this. However, even if the AKP fails to obtain 400 seats, it is not the end of the game because if they take a three-fifths majority they can still pen a new Constitution, but it would require a referendum.

The AKP needs both the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to lose votes and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) not to pass the high 10 percent threshold. However, even if the CHP and MHP remain the same and if the HDP passes the unfair 10 percent threshold, while the AK Party may be able to form a single-party government it will not have sufficient seats to take the presidency proposal to a referendum or pass a parliamentary vote without extra support. If the opposition parties increase their votes allowing the HDP to enter Parliament then the AKP would probably need to form a coalition to remain in power and no party seems likely to join hands with the AKP.

Indeed the HDP is at the heart of this election. Hence, it is unsurprising that over the last weeks Erdogan seems to be implementing a strategy aimed at destroying the HDP, despite the negative implications it has on the Kurdish peace process.