Turkey will hold three elections in 2019: Local, parliamentary, and presidential. The local elections are planned for March 24, while the parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for the same day. Nov. 3, 2019 is significant for the first application of the presidential system, which will be available once adjustment laws are approved in line with the constitutional changes voted for in the April 16 referendum.
After the referendum, only three of the 18 articles were immediately applied: the reorganization of the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), the abolishment of the military judiciary and the removal of the ban on the president's political party membership, while the rest of the articles will be implemented in the 2019 presidential elections. Thus, prominent political parties have started to accommodate their cadres in the new system by establishing substantial reforms in party branches.
Reforms in political parties
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has started to make fundamental changes in its organizational structure to develop and sustain a more effective, stronger political campaign in the elections under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who returned as party leader last May.
In the Central Executive Committee and Central Decision Board (MKYK) meeting on May 29, it was decided the party's branches will be evaluated until the end of 2017 to make essential reforms. After the meeting, President Erdoğan made his first address to the public as party chairman, saying, "We will review and update all our provincial organizations in cities, districts and villages because there is 'metal fatigue' that we need to avoid. We have to get ready for the 2019 elections with more dynamic and hardworking teams."
President Erdoğan's emphasis on "metal fatigue" increased the possibility of a comprehensive change that was soon put into practice. Thus, the party started to hold rural and district congresses on July 3. The second step was to hold provincial congresses, continuing until Feb. 25, 2018. The gradual step will be the AK Party's 6th Ordinary Congress in September 2018. Therefore, reforming its organizational structure became one of the distinctive steps in the process of elections for the AK Party.
Changes in the party's organizational structure were not limited to party branches. On July 19, a major Cabinet reshuffle was announced by the prime minister: six ministerial changes and the appointment of five new ministers – 11 changes in the 27-member Cabinet. This extensive Cabinet reshuffle was the most important indicator of continuation of the party's reformist identity.
The major changes in the AK Party led other political parties to realize the need for change to better adapt to the new system and prepare for upcoming elections. The opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) started its renewal program with provincial and district congresses. Even if the content of the reforms in the CHP is still not clear, its 36th Ordinary Congress is expected took take place in February 2018, where the platform for the CHP's 2019 election strategies will be revealed more clearly.
As well as the CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) also experienced major changes in their organizational structures. The total dismissal of an opposition clique and its supporters in the party was the most significant movement in the MHP. This opposition clique later founded a new party, the İYİ Party (Good Party), led by Meral Akşener. In addition, the HDP will hold its third extraordinary congress on May 20 to replace its co-chair and a significant part of the party council.
The other significant development on political party agendas concerned the formation of political alliances, one of the most controversial issues after the April 16 referendum that is still uncertain. While debates on political alliances came to the fore, President Erdoğan was the only leader to make a clear statement on this issue.
"With 50 percent plus one vote for presidency, political stability comes. In this respect, when we take these into consideration, pre-election alliances can be considered. It can be elaborated," he said.
While Erdoğan emphasized the probability of forming an alliance to provide political stability, the CHP and the HDP indicated forging an alliance to form an opposition group against the AK Party. After the referendum results, HDP officials made a statement for an alliance in the 2019 elections that did not get a clear-cut response from other parties. However, HDP support during and after the Justice March organized by the CHP strengthened the possibility of an alliance between the HDP and the CHP. In the Justice March, many HDP politicians walked with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Nonetheless, even if some circles assumed that both parties were willing to forge a political alliance, the CHP may hesitate to do so.
In conclusion, the AK Party is trying to adapt the party's organizational structure to the new system in a more pre-planned and disciplined way. This advantage can be affective for the party's election success and the comprehension of the main dynamics of the Turkish presidential system. With this direction, 2018 may determine the success or failure of political parties in adaptation to the new political structure through the 2019 elections.
* Researcher at SETA Foundation, Ph.D. student in Political Science at Bilkent University