Nearly four years after his landmark constitutional amendments that changed Turkey’s decades-old parliamentary system into an “executive presidency,” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has set his sights back on the constitution. After all his propaganda on the virtues of his presidential system as a cure for Turkey’s ills, Erdoğan now wants to dump the constitution entirely—and write it anew. Following a cabinet meeting on February 1, Erdoğan publicly called for a new, “civilian” constitution for Turkey. Yesterday, he urged all parties to support it.
Erdoğan’s stated reason for the move is that the current constitution is a relic of Turkey’s post-1980 coup junta, which he calls a fundamental issue that “keeps coming up.” A majority of his cabinet reportedly advocated for the idea during a briefing with Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül on his long-awaited judicial reform package, arguing that a fresh constitution would be the “real” reform.
Opposition leaders and critics have pushed back and called on Erdoğan and his government to stop violating the existing constitution instead. Many dismiss the seriousness of his proposal altogether as an attempt by Erdoğan to change the agenda and distract people from political winds shifting against him. Rising unemployment and diminishing purchasing power are the most pressing issues in Turkey today, and the public largely blames Erdoğan’s government for their worsening quality of life. Meanwhile, a political mobilization is underway in Ankara, with major opposition leaders meeting daily behind closed doors in search of common ground and raising speculation about new electoral alliances in the making. One key issue that has brought Turkey’s deeply divided opposition parties together is their desire to return to the parliamentary system. With his proposed new constitution, Erdoğan aims to outmaneuver them and reclaim the agenda of structural reform.
A more alarmist view is that Erdoğan may be seeking to amend the constitution to reduce the electoral threshold for the presidency, although the government has denied this. Currently, according to Erdoğan’s own 2017 constitutional amendments, a candidate must earn more than 50 percent of the votes to win. Erdoğan, who won his last election with 53 percent, now has a real electability problem. His popularity continues to sink in advance of the presidential contest coming in just two years (possibly sooner).
Rumors aside, should Erdoğan go through with a rewrite of the constitution, he would likely aim to amass even more power in the executive presidency. Erdoğan’s far-right ally Devlet Bahçeli suggested as much in his rant this week against the “risks” the current system poses to a sufficiently strong presidency, describing the new constitution as a chance to “root” the presidential system. Thankfully, even under Erdoğan’s highly problematic presidential system, constitutional amendments still require a supermajority in parliament—which Erdoğan’s and Bahçeli’s parties do not have. Any constitutional changes, therefore, will have to seek the opposition’s approval or go to a referendum. To prevent yet another round of power grabs by Erdoğan, the opposition will have to translate its revitalized search for common ground into action and stand united.
Photo Credit: Grand National Assembly of Turkey / Facebook