Rearranging Turkey's political system according to recent changes


On going talks between the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) were finalized with a deal on Feb. 21. The deal included an agreement on 26 important articles that would allow parties to form alliances before the elections and form a unified list. This agreement has significance beyond the technical issue and items that were agreed on by the two parties. This effort is a first serious attempt to formalize the political context according to the changes that emerged in the last two years. Those changes need to be accommodated by the political system in order to avoid ambiguities within the system.

These agreements were necessary and the overall public consensus on those items is also crucial because the Turkish political system was being reconfigured over the past two years. Three important changes occurred that need to be integrated into the system. The first development was the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2015. This development demonstrated the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of Turkey's bureaucratic system. Turkish people's joint effort to repel the coup attempt allowed for the formation of a new alliance. A stronger, more integrated state and more unified society were considered the antidote of the illegal formations within the state and violent conflicts within society. The Yenikapı spirit was the main motivation behind the reconfiguration of the political environment in Turkey. The Yenikapı rally was a strong message of unity from the people and at least the leaders of the AK Party and the MHP decided to rearrange their political priorities according to this message.

Another important change that needed to be accommodated within the political system is the transformation of the governing apparatus according to the presidential system that was approved in the referendum held in April 2017. The dynamics of the presidential system are very different than the parliamentary one that the people and politicians have been accustomed to over the past hundred years. The presidential system necessitates a more inclusive constituent base and needs to bring together or pool politicians who have similar views to form a more stable governing framework. Especially in the coming months, the legal system and bureaucratic apparatus needs to be transformed to be more compatible with the presidential system. In order to achieve this transformation there is a need for broader popular support and broader social and political agreement. The recent deal between the AK Party and MHP will bring a broader support base for the legal and political amendments to accommodate the presidential system.

The third important change that allowed for the formation of a new coalition is the security challenges that the country has been facing due to the ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood. Especially the formation of the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party (PYD) administrations along its borders is considered an unacceptable security challenge for Turkey. Radical organizations like Daesh are also considered an existential threat to the Turkish state and society. External pressure on Turkey to accept the de facto formations along its borders is also considered unacceptable by the wide majority of the public. That is why the popular bases of at least two parties allowed their representative to broker an agreement that would allow for making serious decisions for the future of their country.

Without the common threat perception and shared sensitivities of patriotism, the leaders of the two parties would have not been able to reach a deal. Indeed, the popular consensus puts pressure on the political leaders to agree on the fundamental issues for the future of the country. The two leaders, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, especially played a crucial role to broker the deal that was expected by the two parties; constituents.The recent deal between the AK Party and MHP is an important milestone in the political system. The deal is open to other political parties and movements.

This deal aims to bring a more stable and more predictable political future to the country. This agreement needs to be substantiated with the formation of shared norms and new institutions. There is still a long way to go for the full functioning of the system and there are many hurdles ahead, but public consensus is crucial for the maintenance of this alliance. There is a great burden on the leaders of the two parties to meet the expectations of their party apparatus as well as their popular constituents. The current political atmosphere, and a spirit and sense of unity are helping leaders work together.

* Associate professor and the chair of the Political Science and International Relations Department at Ibn Haldun University

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