A mistake Turkey cannot afford

Turkey stands alone as a functioning democracy among Muslim-majority states of the Middle East

Ceylan Ozbudak
Ceylan Ozbudak
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There is a difference between change and progress. Even though there are many points we may be critical about, we cannot deny that Turkey has both changed and progressed under the AK Party rule. Lately the Turkish political scene is being shaken by the AK Party’s offer to switch its current parliamentary system of government in Turkey for a Presidential one; an offer, which is not supported by the majority of the public and might come with dangerous consequences.

President Erdogan carried out swift reforms to stabilize Turkey’s economic and political scene during his service as the Prime Minister. He is eager to serve much faster with the authority of a president in a presidential system, which closes doors to coalition governments that led to instability in Turkey in the past. However, a presidential system is not suitable for the social fabric of Turkey. Despite the prevailing media narrative of the presidential system being a miracle pill to solve Turkey’s problems, public opinion seems to be against the notion.

Most AK Party officials seem to be downplaying the people’s concerns but in Turkey’s 550-seat Parliament, two thirds are needed to pass a constitutional change without referendum. This adds up to 367 seats, which is very difficult to achieve without a coalition. Considering the possible ramifications of a presidential system, even among the AK Party ranks, we may see fractures when the time comes for the votes. What happens if the AK Party goes for a referendum? Most likely the public will vote “no.” Even though the media hype makes it look like the country has already switched to the system, in the practical sense, such a result seems easier said than done.

Historically, the people of Turkey have always been open to change, which is likely to lead to progress. When Mustafa Kemal Ataturk introduced a new alphabet, a new education system, which was in line with the West and a new system of government, the majority of the people accepted these changes eagerly. The remaining lands of Turkey were a peninsula in the middle of the once mighty Ottoman Empire and there was no need for strong local governments; a parliamentary system was the best choice for an embryonic democracy like Turkey to keep its remaining unitary structure in place. Moreover, the current parliamentary system in Turkey is the remains of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876, which set the foundation for the parliamentary system in Turkey as a rooted practice.

Turkey stands alone as a functioning democracy among Muslim-majority states of the Middle East

Ceylan Ozbudak

Since 1923, the parliamentary system has proven to be the best form of governance for Turkey considering the political structure and the country’s social environment. A parliamentary system is much more flexible, responsive, and more conducive. The option to change the cabinet every few years gives people more of a hands-on feel than in a presidential system, in which the same person is both head of state and the head of the government and is elected for a fixed amount of time. In the parliamentary system, the people are able to keep their leadership under a more transparent control and the people's sovereignty remains. Let’s not forget that democracy is not only about rules and regulations but about participation. A parliamentary democracy is more responsive to the public will, because the council of ministers - which refers to the executive body of the government - is accountable to the Parliament, in other words, the legislative body.

Moreover, the only example we can cite right now as a working presidential system in the world is the U.S.A and even that does not always so smooth: American political life is paralyzed by division and inability to action. Today, even in the U.S., switching to a parliamentary system is a matter of discussion. When the 13 colonies first came together to form a united body, a presidential system looked like the perfect answer. The peoples of the land grew different tastes in governance and the federal system embedded in the presidential system gave the founding colonies an opportunity to thrive under the umbrella of a powerful union. Three centuries ago, this was a unifying act. However, in Turkey the same step today would be an act of division. If Turkey were to abandon the provincial system in favor of a confederacy of Turkish states, with locally elected governors, this would be tantamount to a kiss of death to democracy in Turkey’s South East. Under the current parliamentary system, governors are appointed by Ankara and central control is maintained. Under a presidential system, the PKK would force people in the region at gunpoint to vote for PKK-endorsed candidates with breakaway aspirations.

The wise approach to such a possible mistake would be to acknowledge it instantly, correct it and prevent it. Opposing the presidential system does not stem solely from patriotism but from the simple logic of not wanting a new Middle East disaster emerging amid the current civil wars and disputes. Turkey stands alone as a functioning democracy among Muslim-majority states of the Middle East. This winning combination of parliament and people must be preserved for posterity and ongoing prosperity.

Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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