Following the March 30 local elections, Turkey is now focused on the August 2014 presidential election. It is not difficult to see that this aroused curiosity far beyond the borders of Turkey.
One of the main questions is whether Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be a candidate for president, which is certainly significant. It is natural for a politician, who has been successful in all elections in which he participated, to be president and this carries special significance in Turkish history.
This significance would still stand out, even if we had a classical parliamentarian system. However, this is not the case and in Turkey, the presidency was designed in a way that is beyond the classical parliamentary system.
The generals that issued the constitution 1982 formed a presidential system in their own way. They thought the presidency would function as a militarist organ of tutelage.
According to Article 104 in the 1982 Constitution, the president has extensive authorities which are rarely seen in parliamentary systems.
For instance, whenever the president considers it necessary, he can chair the ministerial cabinet or can call ministers for a meeting. The president is also the head of the National Security Council, which is another institution of tutelage. Similarly, whenever he finds it necessary, he can call the council to a meeting. Moreover, he directly chairs the ministerial cabinet in a state of emergency. And this council of ministers, headed by the president, has right to issue decrees without being authorized by Turkish Grand National Assembly.
Additionally, the State Supervisory Council, which has authority to control all public institutions and nongovernmental organizations, serves under the presidency.
The president also elects members of the Council of Higher Education and presidents of universities without consulting any other bodies.
Another point that distinguishes the Turkish presidency from classical parliamentarianism is judicial authorities. The president selects 14 of 17 members of the Constitutional Court, one-fourth of State Council's members, the general prosecutor and deputy of the Supreme Court, members of the Supreme Military Court and of High Military Administrative Court, as well as four members of High Council of Judges and Prosecutors without consulting the government or Parliament and makes decisions on his own.
As is clearly seen, the president has the power to balance and block the parliamentary democratic will. While doing this, he bears no political responsibility. The president may be charged with treason only if three-quarters majority votes in favor of that in the Parliament, a case which is almost impossible.
All of these provisions were accepted by the generals during the period of past military coups, however something went wrong and civil democrats were elected president.
In 2007, the idea of electing the president by direct popular vote was adopted and thus the democratic legitimacy of the powerful authorities was ensured.
When Erdoğan becomes president, he will definitely have the right to exercise all these authorities in an efficient way. Moreover, he will do this as a president who is directly elected by the public for the first time in the history of Turkish republic.
Will Turkey fully transform into the semi-presidential system in this way?
The responsibility of running the general politics of a country will continue to belong to the prime minister and council of ministers. Despite the president officially having the power to do so, it is practically impossible for the president to head the council of ministers without the prime minister's consent.
Thus, it seems that we will face a political conjuncture that has three possibilities.
Let us address them in the next column.
About the author
Osman Can is a Law Professor and Reporting Judge at the Turkish Constitutional Court. He holds a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany.