Turkey: Presidential system will strengthen separation of powers in Turkey, says Constitution Committee head
Presidential system will strengthen separation of powers in Turkey, says Constitution Committee head
constitutional amendment package to allow Turkey to switch to a
presidential system has been accepted by the parliamentary commission
after almost 10 days and hundreds of hours of relentless work. The
package now will be discussed in Parliament starting today, and the
legislation process is expected to be finalized before than end of
Mustafa Şentop, the chairman of the Constitution Committee in
Parliament, spoke to Daily Sabah about the scope of the amendment
package and gave details on the proposed presidential system.
Şentop believes that this constitutional amendment is probably one of
the most important of its kind in Turkey's political history. What makes
it even more important is that these changes were slated by a
legitimate government, elected by the people through free and fair
elections, and had the lengthiest discussions in the commission's
amendment package originally consisted of 21 articles, 18 of which
passed in the commission. However, Şentop said these changes would not
alter the essence of the package. Dismissing criticisms about the
package that it might lead Turkey into authoritarian rule, he underlined
that the new system would actually consolidate the separation of
Sabah: After lengthy discussions in the Constitutional Commission, the
constitutional amendment is to be discussed in Parliament on Monday. How
did you proceed in the Constitutional Commission?
Mustafa Şentop: We
started working on the draft around 04:00 p.m. on Dec. 20, and it was
finished by 07:10 a.m. on Dec. 30, clocking in at around 100 hours of
total work. Throughout this process, 266 members of Parliament took the
floor for various periods of time. The Constitutional Commission has
only 26 members; therefore, the opposition's accusations that they were
not allowed to speak against the draft is simply not true and is an
attempt to influence public perception. To the best of my knowledge,
almost all the deputies of the Republican People's Party (CHP) were
given the floor. In addition, they also provided annotations, and
virtually everything was discussed.
commission, on the other hand, is a specialized one, as it discusses
changes to the Constitution. Every party in Parliament elected their own
representatives who are knowledgeable about the subject matter and
could advocate the party's policies for the commission.
duty of this commission was clear: to evaluate, discuss and criticize
the draft. I am not against deputies who were not part of the commission
voicing their opinions during commission sessions. However, if each and
every deputy starts to talk during these sessions without any time
limits, it would clog the whole system. Moreover, some were just
repeating concerns they had voiced before, which I believe, were
constitutional amendment is probably one of the most important of its
kind in the political history of Turkey. In a sense, it is also
unprecedented. While there were constitutional changes in 1961 and in
1982, those were made by juntas that usurped the elected authority.
one, foreseeing a significant change in Turkey's political system, on
the other hand, was prepared by a legitimate government elected by the
people as a result of free and fair elections. Furthermore, it was
subject to the lengthiest discussions in the commission's history.
DS: Out of the original 21 articles, 18 were passed by the commission. Could you tell us why three articles were dropped?
is a normal legislative process. Even though the draft was meticulously
prepared, it needs to be evaluated and reviewed by others to make it
refined through and through.
of the articles dropped was about the substitute deputies system, which
exists in over 20 European countries. Previously, we had proposed this
change in 2012; thus, it was not something new.
were not sure whether we should include this in the constitutional
amendment package. While I personally believe that this system should be
implemented, other articles that are related to the status of deputies
must be changed, and for this reason, it was left out of the reform
other two articles were related, and they were about reorganizing
certain structures in the central administration and the appointment of
administrators. It was decided that these changes were redundant, as the
revision of the articles concerning the presidency and the Cabinet
would have the same precise effect.
were other minor changes beside these three articles. One was the
article to regulate candidacy for the presidency. It stated that all
presidential candidates should be Turkish-born. This expression
understandably discomforted some people, mainly those who have
immigrated to Turkey and have been living here for decades. As a member
of a family that immigrated from the Balkans, I can relate to their
discomfort. Nevertheless, this expression was thus removed.
summary, the essence of the constitutional amendment package was not
altered much, with the exception of the substitute deputy system.
There was criticism that with the approval of the package, the checks
and balances system will be dismantled. How would you evaluate this
are baseless accusations and were made mostly by those who want to
preserve the status quo. After the 1960 coup, certain groups in Turkey
gained immense political power even though they were a minority in the
sense of numbers. Currently, the CHP is the advocate of these people and
the status quo.
They disregard the will of the people, and ironically, they do this through the parliamentary system.
the proposed system, only the legislature can be directly elected by
the people, not the executive. The problem is that the executive, thus
the government, emerges from Parliament, and it relies on
intra-parliamentary balances. If you alter the balance in Parliament,
you can depose and implement governments.
this reason, "unrecorded" political actors have been active in
Parliament since the 1960 coup. There are two clear examples of these
activities. For instance, in 1971, Prime Minister Süleyman Demirel,
whose party had the majority of seats in Parliament, was forced to
resign through a memorandum by the military. After that, certain CHP
deputies, who were not even prominent figures in their party, became
prime minister and cabinet members, and these people governed Turkey for
second instance took place in 1997 when another democratically elected
government was deposed of by undermining one of the two coalition
parties, and another party, which did not have adequate seats in
Parliament, formed the government by forcing the others to cast a vote
since 1960, certain actors of the status quo have been manipulating
governments via their activities within the parliamentary system. The
Turkish implementation of the parliamentary system, unfortunately,
allows such actions. Of course, there are also other problems that are
caused by the parliamentary system.
ruling Justice and Development party (AK Party), especially under
President Erdoğan, has been trying to draw attention to this since April
2003 when he first said the parliamentary system did not fit Turkey and
a presidential or semi-presidential system should be implemented. This
happened in the very first months of the first AK Party government.
main aim of this package is to grant the people the right to directly
elect the government. There will be two ballots, one for presidential
elections and the other for parliamentary elections. It will diminish
the power of the said extra-parliamentary groups by not allowing them to
manipulate governments any further.
the checks and balances, this system will actually consolidate the
separation of powers. We are keeping all the control mechanisms intact
and as they were with the exception of interpellation. This is due to
the change in the system of governance. Currently, the government has to
have the confidence and support of Parliament as it is elected by
Parliament. However, in the presidential system, the people directly
elect the president. Therefore, there will be no point in having
DS: How will you respond to claims that the presidential system will deprive Parliament of all its functions?They
are trying to preserve the status quo, and therefore are distorting
what is being proposed. Parliament has two main duties: To legislate and
determine the budget. These are the same for both the parliamentary and
the presidential systems.
will continue to legislate; however, the president will also have the
authority to push executive orders. Supporters of the status quo are
trying to keep this authority exclusive to the legislature.
case here is that executive orders that the president can enact are
only about the executive. In this sense, the president cannot issue
executive orders in fields identified by law.
we have also said if there is no specific law about a subject, the
president can enact executive orders. However, if Parliament approves a
law about this subject, it will override the presidential enactment. If
the law and presidential enactment contradict each other, we have
specified that, again, the law will supplant the enactment. Therefore,
presidential enactment is a lesser law, unlike the U.S. implementation.
The U.S. president's executive order is equal to the law, and we have
seen instances of this in recent years. As I have said, ours will be
the other hand, the president's executive orders will be open to
scrutiny from the Constitutional Court, as to whether it is in
accordance with the law or not. In this sense, Parliament will not be
deprived of its functions, as it will continue to be the only
legislative institution. In addition, the budget will be prepared by the
president, but will be submitted to the relevant parliamentary
commission and then will be discussed by the general assembly. In this
sense, Parliament will have the last say on the budget.
if the discussions do not conclude before the specified deadline, the
president will have the authority to implement a temporary budget that
still can be supplanted by Parliament when they pass the budget.The
new system will also allow the possibility of different parties winning
Parliament and the presidency. In the current system, this is
DS: If the president and a majority of Parliament are from different political parties, won't it result in chaos?
believe that there are adequate measures to prevent everything from
descending into chaos. Theoretically, this may cause the legislature to
not approve any laws of the executive. However, as I have said before,
we give the president the authority to push forward executive orders. In
such a situation, the president may use his/her authority to enact
executive orders in fields that are allowed, which will avert any
the president's executive orders mainly aim to implement certain
reforms or provide a legal basis, there is also a secondary function: to
provoke, so-to-speak, the legislature to take action.
Parliament is reluctant to make a regulation about a subject, the
president may implement an executive order on the subject, which in turn
will provoke Parliament to take actions against it, if they are not in
favor of the executive order. Therefore, it will prevent a "lazy"
say these did not resolve the issues and a crisis is imminent. Then
both the president and Parliament will go for elections simultaneously.
This is different from almost all existing presidential systems in this
way, as most of presidential systems foresee the dissolution of
Parliament by the president. However, in our system, this will be
bilateral. Therefore, if the president wants to dissolve Parliament and
force a new election, the president must also go through the same
process. This will be an instrument to unclog the system.
the other hand, there is a false belief in our country that the
legislature and the executive should be controlled by opposing political
parties, and they should fight every day, whereas in many other
countries, they try to reinforce cooperation between these two branches.
instance, in France, a constitutional amendment was passed to equalize
the president's term with the deputies in 2002. The same amendment also
stated that presidential and parliamentary elections in France should be
held a month apart from each other at most. Still, if the French
president does not believe that he/she could work with the elected
parliament, they have the right to dissolve the parliament once a year.
In this sense, it's harsher than the system we have proposed, but it
shares the same aim: To make the legislature and the executive
hope that it will never come to this, but we have added the
aforementioned measures to counter any possible crisis that might emerge
due to a deadlock between Parliament and the president.
It is foreseen that the transition to this system will continue until
2019, the same year when parliamentary elections will take place. Does
the AK Party have any plans to change the electoral system?
have been working on the electoral system for a while now, but were
unable to change it, as there were multiple elections over a short
period of time.
all of the parties are demanding a change in the electoral laws, and we
are currently working on it. I believe it will be completed before
ratification of the constitutional amendment package, which will
probably be around April this year.
you know, according to the 1982 constitution, the president does not
have any formal responsibilities, but with the amendment, this will
change. Could you elaborate on that?
the current system, the president does not have any responsibility and
could only be punished if he/she is found guilty of treason, which is
not defined in the Turkish Penal Code. The president has some areas of
authority, such as leading the Council of Ministers, announcing state of
emergency and approving or disapproving personnel appointments.
they cannot be held responsible for their actions and inactions. It's
the government that will be held responsible, if something goes wrong.
We are also changing this by allowing the president to be held
responsible for all of his/her actions and be punished for any crime
that might have been committed.
the other hand, we are making it harder for Parliament to accuse the
president of a crime by increasing the threshold to a simple majority,
from one third of the votes in Parliament, while decreasing the amount
of votes required to make the president stand trial in the Supreme Court
from three fourth to two thirds. This will allow only the most serious
accusations to pass the threshold, while making it more probable for the
president to stand trial for such serious allegations.
DS: Will the Council of Ministers be formed only by officials who are not deputies?
are no obstacles for a deputy to become a minister. However, if a
deputy does become a minister, he/she would have to relinquish the duty
as an MP due to the principle of separation of powers. A member of the
legislature cannot be part of the executive simultaneously and vice
DS: So, the government will not be able to propose draft laws?
it will be the case. In the current system, the government can propose
laws; however, in the presidential system, only deputies will be able to
propose laws. The executive cannot be present in the general assembly
and affect the lawmaking process in any way. Therefore, it is completely
the duty of the legislature.
Beside all the aforementioned changes, the package also included some
amendments to demilitarize military justice and address some other
issues. Could you tell us a bit more about these changes?
has been a long-discussed issue in Turkish politics. We know that all
parties, including the CHP, agree with the demilitarization of the
judiciary. In the package, all levels of military justice are being
abolished. They will be allowed to form only during wartime conditions.Another
important change is that we are decreasing the age of candidacy to
become members of Parliaments from 25 to 18, which is widely accepted by
most countries, and there are not many countries left that have this
kind of high age-limit for candidacy.
is a change in appointing and electing members to the Supreme Board of
Judges and Prosecutors. Some argue that this will result in the
judiciary being dominated by political will. How do you respond to that?
believe it is not true, and once again is the machinations of the
status quo. The issue is that political activity is being understood as
something only political parties engage in. My question would be whether
judges and prosecutors have their own political beliefs. Do they leave
their political beliefs aside while electing the members of this board? I
do not believe so. Turkey has observed how they were split into groups,
opposing each other 2010 onward.
the other hand, while the people are represented by the executive and
the legislature but don't have any say in the judiciary, I believe this
makes things problematic. In many functional systems around the world,
the people have a say in the judiciary, either directly or indirectly.
Therefore, we believe that the people should at least have an influence
in the judiciary, if not directly, through certain mechanisms.
Main opposition CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has voiced his criticism regarding the package. How would you evaluate that?
I have said before, the CHP is a party that reveres the status quo.
While they don't believe that they can form the government, their only
hope is to become a part of a coalition. With the changing system, this
will not be possible. Therefore, they are against the whole change just
because they believe they will never have the chance to elect one of
their own as president. In addition, as they cannot state these facts --
that they are opposing this change to protect their own interests --
they make wild accusations about the system.
As you mentioned before, the package will be discussed in the general assembly on Monday. How will it proceed?
proposal that comes to the general assembly will eventually be put to
vote. Despite the opposition, I believe it will pass the general
assembly in around two weeks. If it were passed in January, it would be
possible to push the constitutional amendment package for referendum in
late March or early April.
present state of emergency will continue during that time. Do you
believe it would be possible to have a referendum during a state of
believe this is a superficial argument. According to law, it is
possible to have it. Moreover, when we look at history, we can see that
elections and referendums were held during states of emergency and
martial law. It is both possible in terms of application and law. On the
other hand, the reasons for the current state of emergency are not
related to the constitutional amendment in any way.
was projected that the transition will continue until 2019, if the
amendments are passed. Could you inform us about the transition process?
package will come into effect after the referendum. However, each
amendment will be implemented according to their various timelines.
Changes in the political system will come into effect fully during the
elections that are to be held on Nov. 3, 2019. On the other hand, many
of the amendments will be implemented almost immediately.
most discussed amendment is the party member president. Even though the
president is defined as impartial by the Constitution and swears to be
impartial in their oath, it actually means judicial impartiality.
a part of political party does not contradict judicial impartiality.
Many countries have presidents that continue to chair their political
parties. However, in our country, this has been reduced to being a
member of a political party. We will be correcting this by allowing the
president to have ties with his/her political party. As the people are
directly electing the president, it would not be realistic to expect the
president to be completely objective.
- 09 January 2017
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