President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s address to Parliament’s opening session focused on his call for a new constitution. Stressing that Türkiye should draft a civilian constitution for the first time since the republic’s early years, the Turkish leader made the case that the 1982 Constitution, which was drafted by the junta that carried out the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, could not address the country’s needs. He thus urged everyone to answer his call for a new constitution “with a constructive approach.”
Perhaps more importantly, Erdoğan noted that Parliament would address the need to “improve the presidential system in light of the experiences accumulated in its first five years” and thus put an end to the debate over Türkiye’s system of government. The president, who said he would welcome any kind of agreement, has a clear purpose: to give the people the constitution they need for the “Century of Türkiye.”
Ahead of the May 2023 elections, I warned that the opposition undermined its political platform by insisting on the “augmented” parliamentary system. I added that they would be better off advocating a different version of presidentialism. Of course, the opposition did not propose a presidential system on the basis of “democracy and the separation of powers.” Nor were they able to sell the electorate on the “augmented” parliamentary system.
In the end, the opposition was left with anti-Erdoğanism alone. Furthermore, one of their last-minute moves, proposing a weird presidential system with one president and seven vice presidents to highlight their power-sharing agreement, guaranteed their defeat. Today, opposition figures view that plan as one of the main reasons behind their loss.
Opposition to presidential system
Kılıçdaroğlu staunchly opposes the offer to improve the presidential system. As a matter of fact, he warns the other “table for six” members that the Turkish people would question them if they were to give up on augmented parliamentarian – which they had officially endorsed. Whereas the CHP and the Green Left Party (YSP) reject the plan as a whole, the right-wing opposition parties are waiting to see what the People’s Alliance has in mind. They also appreciate that the “headscarf” question and the protection of families are more difficult to tackle than criticizing the current system of government.
Meanwhile, pro-opposition commentators question Erdoğan’s motives. Although some claim that the president wants to scrap the 1982 Constitution’s first four provisions (which cannot be amended) to get rid of secularism, others rule out that possibility. The rest, in turn, believe that Erdoğan merely wants to get reelected without having to receive more than 50%.
For the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its leader, which set out to empower the Turkish people and thwarted countless tutelage attempts including the July 15 coup attempt, however, the search for a new constitution is merely about crowning the nation’s democratic struggle with a civilian constitution.
By refusing to participate in the debate over “improving” the current constitution, the opposition seems to assume that it can break out of the frame that the government already created. I respectfully disagree, however, since avoiding that subject threatens to further limit the opposition’s room to operate as the March 2024 municipal election campaign will focus on drafting a “new and civilian constitution” by 2028.
For Erdoğan, the new constitution relates to “reaching his final goal” as well as “facilitating active engagement in politics.” Going forward, the government will be able to accuse the opposition of “preventing Parliament from shaping our country’s future.”