Ertuğrul Günay
May 07 2018

We need a president, not a party leader

As Turkey head towards crucial presidential elections on June 24, the next president should be someone who is not after advancing their political or personal career, but someone who will lead the country on the path back to democracy.

That is what we need. According to the constitution, the elections were to be held on Nov. 3, 2019. Despite that, the government’s junior partner proposed holding the polls in late August this year.

The same day, addressing his parliamentary party, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mentioned the November 2019 elections three times, but the next day he announced the polls would be held on June 24 this year.

Opposition parties accepted this decision without hesitation, saying they were always ready for elections. Now we are about to hold the snap polls on the date set by a government that has probably been planning them for some time.

This election is different than all the other Turkey has held since 1946. This time we will not only elect members of parliament, but according to constitutional amendments approved in last year’s referendum, we will elect one person who will monopolise almost all the powers of the state.

Being a member of the parliament is a secondary, ineffective, and unimportant issue in this general election. The public is not very interested in who are to become candidates for parliament. All attention is focused on the presidential elections.

That is because after the election, the constitutional changes voted on in last year’s referendum will come into force and the president will have powers that could not be proposed, let alone be approved, within a democratic system.

After June 24, there will be no prime minister, parliament will have no say in the choice of ministers, no oversight over them, nor powers to remove them from office.

The president will be able to make all the decisions and appoint all senior officials. Only two constitutional amendments approved in the referendum have so far gone into force; an article that allows the president to be a member of a political party and changes to the supreme board of judges and prosecutors. The result is clear.

Erdoğan now spends more time on party issues rather than state affairs. He gives speeches at his party’s provincial and sub-provincial congresses. He intervenes in his party’s administration, with its elected officials. He sacks mayors, and even tells the prime minister when to resign.

This happens despite the fact that the constitutional neutrality of the president is still in force. The president’s oath of neutrality is still in the constitution and will remain in it.

However, the current president is a party member, speaks as the head of his party and hits out at other political parties. The other political parties respond in kind. This situation has a deep and negative effect on our state and society. It damages the integrity of the nation and the prestige of the state. Turkish politics is antagonistic, society is divided, and the state is crushed.

The opposition should take steps to raise hopes of the prospect of changing this picture and should shape its candidates, discourse, and policies accordingly.

Since the present crisis is a result of having a president with party membership, the insistence of some party leaders to become candidates makes people worry they do not comprehend the gravity of the situation.

If any of the candidates manage to defeat Erdoğan, then what the new president should not do is rule the country with the extensive new executive powers. The new president should repeal those changes and return the separation of powers, and reinstitute the rule of law, the principles of justice and pluralistic democracy.

What is needed in this transition period is not a party member who is ambitious, enthusiastic, and assertive, but is a unity candidate who keeps an equal distance from all political parties, who is committed to human rights and the rule of law, who inspires trust, who is a pluralist and a democrat.

The new president should not rule the country according to the new executive powers, but throw them into the dustbin of history, and rules the country in a neutral way.

Politicians who are or want to be party leaders should assume the duty of bringing back democracy and the rule of law, rather than attempting to become president.