Erdoğan the Magnificent

by Sinan Ülgen-ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now fulfilled his ultimate political objective of being the country’s first ever popularly elected executive president, receiving almost 53% of the national vote in Sunday’s election. A year ago, Erdoğan pushed through constitutional amendments to transform Turkey’s parliamentary democracy into a highly centralized presidential system. Now those amendments will come fully into force.
The constitutional changes give Erdoğan new powers to appoint vice presidents, ministers, and senior officials. They also allow him to dissolve parliament, be a member of a political party, have a greater say in appointing judges to the highest courts, issue decrees with the force of law, and impose a state of emergency. Narrowly approved by voters last April, the constitutional amendments also abolished the office of the prime minister. For the next five years, Erdoğan will be Turkey’s head of state, head of its ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and head of government.
Erdoğan is secure in his position because an early presidential election requires a two-thirds parliamentary vote – an unlikely scenario given the AKP’s near-majority. He has thus become Turkey’s most powerful leader since the country began to hold contested elections in the years immediately following World War II. Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies will now be shaped, ultimately, by one man.
This is of course the opposite of liberal democracy, a core feature of which is a robust set of institutional checks and balances designed to limit executive authority. The assignment of exceptionally broad powers to the executive president under the new constitution reflects a populist vision of government according to which the elected leader, as the true representative of the nation, should not be hindered in pursuing the nation’s interests. The nation can judge the president’s performance only every five years.
By adopting the constitutional text in a referendum, a slim majority of Turkish voters seem to have given their blessing to this populist conception of democratic politics. But two key considerations will constrain how Erdoğan uses his impressive set of new prerogatives.
First, despite winning the presidency, the AKP lost its outright majority in Parliament. With a tally of 42%, down seven points compared to the November 2015 election, the AKP was able to secure 293 of the parliament’s 600 seats. As a result, Erdoğan will be forced to seek alliances to enact legislation. Even with the parliament’s diminished role under the new constitution, control of the legislature remains important for the effective functioning of the state.

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