Turkey’s march towards a »hyper-presidential » system

by Chloé de Radzitzky

The Turkish Parliament discussed on Saturday morning the possibility of reforming the Constitution by referendum. The project of President Erdogan and of his political party (AKP) is to change the parliamentary system in a presidential system « just like in France or in the United States « . In the hypothesis where this change would actually happen, Erdogan could legally remain in power until 2029; as well as strengthening its presidential powers[1].

To do it, they need to obtain 330 voices on 550 to the Parliament. The political Party AKP has strongly pushed for the project during the legislative election, asking to the Turkish electorate to give it enough seats to take the constitutional reform to a referendum. However, the AKP has only obtained 317 seats. A recent union with the MHP, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, allowed Erdogan to make a step further towards the implementation of a hyper-presidential system. The date of the referendum is to be set in March/April, 2017[2]. But what are the implications of such changes?

The current Turkish parliamentary system gives the executive power to the Prime Minister. The function of president is more honorific[3]. The later one is supposed to abandon partisan memberships once elected. However, this trend has been de facto different since the election of president Erdogan in 2014. The project of reform of the constitution aims at institutionalizing it.

It is not the first time that the possibility of transforming the Turkish regime into a presidential system provokes debate. Ozal and Demirel (former prime ministers that both became president) also militated for a strengthening of the presidential powers starting from the 1980s[4]. Erdogan and his party took over the project for the first time in 2013 by proposing it to the « Commission for a constitutional consensus « . Partisans for reform support that ending coalition government will bring more stability in Turkey. Erdogan also asserted that it will give to the country the opportunity to develop more quickly weakening the check and balance system.

The partisans of the constitutional reform their project present as aiming at establishing a diet comparable to that of the United States. The American presidential system is characterized by a strong separation of powers. The legislative, executive and judiciary branches are subjected to a system of check and balance. Nevertheless, Erdogan asserted that he wants “a Turkish type of presidentialism”. He wants to establish a system corresponding to what Larkin defines as being a drift to “hyper-presidentialism ». Hyper presidentialism is defined by the author as being a radical version of the presidential system. He is characterized by a weakening of the system of balance of the powers resulting from an action of the president to change the diet and concentrate the power between his/her hands[5].

The reforms moved forward by the AKP in 2013 aim at abolishing the position of Prime Minister and to considerably increase the presidential legislative and the non-legislative powers. According to Boyunsuz, these changes taken in an independent way, are not unprecedented to the existing various forms presidential system. As the author writes it in his « The AKP’s proposal for a ‘Turkish type of presidentialism’ in comparative context »[6], it is the overall combination of these measures that put the Turkish type presidentialism in the category of “hyper-presidentialism”. The legislative powers enounced in the draft of the Constitution include, among others a right of veto combined with the ability to emit two types of decree (the capacity to establish a state of emergency and the ability to implement policies in areas where there is no clear legislation). The president can also submit legislative acts to a referendum once a year. If the constitutional reform takes place, Erdogan will also benefit from enormous non-legislative powers. For instance, by opposition to the president of the United States, he can appoint and dismiss Ministers and bureaucrats without any intervention of the legislative power[7].

This concentration of power in the hands of a president having already seriously limited the freedoms of the press and expression represents a serious threat for the democracy (although all this remains legal). However, it does not go against the trajectory that Tukey has already taken since few years. Erdogan has already proclaimed the state of emergency further to the attempt of coup d’état last July and Prime Minister already became a puppet.


[1] “Turquie: le renforcement des pouvoirs d’Erdogan soumis au Parlement”, La Libre Belgique, 10 décembre 2016. En ligne http://www.lalibre.be/dernieres-depeches/afp/turquie-le-renforcement-des-pouvoirs-d-erdogan-soumis-au-parlement-584c46b6cd70bb41f08e2d30

[2] Jégo, M 2016, En Turquie, vers un référendum en 2017 pour ou contre le renforcement des pouvoirs d’Erdogan”, Le Monde, 10 décembre 2016. En ligne http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2016/12/10/erdogan-veut-un-referendum-en-2017-pour-renforcer-ses-pouvoirs_5046833_3218.html

[3] Despite the fact that the President has some power since the 1982 Constitution

[4] Aygün, E 2014, ‘Presidentialism: is it a better option for Turkey?’, European Journal Of Economic And Political Studies (EJEPS), 7, i, pp. 71-85, Index Islamicus, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2016.

[5] Özsoy Boyunsuz, Ş 2016, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies, 17, 1, pp. 68-90, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2016

[6] Özsoy Boyunsuz, Ş 2016, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies, 17, 1, pp. 68-90, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2016

[7] Özsoy Boyunsuz, Ş 2016, ‘The AKP’S proposal for a “Turkish type of presidentialism” in comparative context’, Turkish Studies, 17, 1, pp. 68-90, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 13 December 2016