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Turkey's opposition is calling for a new 'strengthened' parliamentary system

What would a ‘strengthened’ parliamentary system mean for Turkey?

Ignoring President Erdoğan’s call for a ‘new’ civilian constitution, the Turkish opposition is pushing forward with plans of its own

It’s happening again.

More than half a decade since the last process petered out, the Turkish government is chattering once more about introducing the country’s first new civilian constitution.

It’s a careful choice of words: “civilian”, because the previous two efforts were brought in after military coups in 1961 and 1982; “first new”, because the republic was founded by civilians in the Ataturk era.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s words this week announcing a revival of the process would have been music to European ears a decade ago.

“By their nature, constitutions must obtain the support of an entire society if possible, but certainly a vast majority,” he told his party’s parliamentary group on Wednesday. “This can only be possible if the new constitution is prepared through a formula that has a place for everyone in the country.”

He went on: “Our preference is for all our political parties to take part in this process. We will demonstrate a sincere effort for this to the end.”

The impossible deal

The trouble is that, unlike a similar all-party constitutional effort that made some progress before falling apart in 2013, Turkey’s opposition parties now do not believe him.

They have been working, quite openly and for quite some time, on an alternative: a cross-party deal that would reverse the executive presidency system introduced four years ago.

In its place they plan what they call a “strengthened” parliamentary system — but beyond abolishing Mr Erdoğan’s executive presidency and restoring the post of prime minister, there is very little detail publicly available yet.

The opposition’s plans

So far, there are two main documents in circulation:

  • “For full democracy, a strengthened parliamentary system” [download PDF] — a proposal from Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister under Mr Erdoğan who now leads the small Future (Gelecek) Party. He’s been doing the rounds meeting party leaders since November 2020
  • “A new system of government for Turkey” [download PDF] — written by Turkish constitutional academics Şule Özsoy Boyunsuz and Berk Esen, this document has been discussed by senior leadership teams in several parties, including the CHP

There is another efforts in the works from Ali Babacan, another former AK Party politician who now leads the Democracy and Progress (DEVA) Party, but no policy document exists publicly for this.

What do the plans say?

There is a lot of overlap between the two documents currently in circulation. Here is what we do know:

The Executive

Both opposition proposals involve restoring the post of prime minister and the concept of collective cabinet government. The presidency would be scaled back to a largely ceremonial role and be elected by parliament, not the public.

Table #1Today's
system
Pre-2017
system
Davutoğlu
proposal
Istanpol
proposal
Turkey's head of statePresidentPresidentPresidentPresident
Turkey's head of governmentPresidentPrime MinisterPrime MinisterPrime Minister
Major decisions signed byPresident aloneCabinet collectivelyCabinet collectivelyCabinet collectively
President's duties: ceremonial or executive?
"Ceremonial" Turkish presidencies have always some hard powers, including: appointing and dismissing prime ministers, calling occasional cabinet meetings and a one-time veto on laws passed by parliament

Sweeping executive powers
Appointing ministers; passing laws by decree
Mostly ceremonialMostly ceremonial
with power to veto laws once, but fewer direct appointments
Mostly ceremonial
with power to veto laws once, but fewer direct appointments

The Legislature

Both proposals draw attention to the concept of “constructive no-confidence” — meaning that a majority of MPs can vote to bring down a government only if they also vote to nominate a replacement. This, they say, will help prevent a return to the chaotic coalitions of the 1970s and 1990s.

Table #2
Can MPs...
The system todayThe system before 2017Davutoğlu's proposalIstanPol's proposal
Question ministers in person?NoYesYesYes
Question ministers in writing?Yes
No time limit for a reply.
Yes
No time limit for a reply.
Yes
Time limits for a reply.
Yes
Time limits for a reply.
Vote to censure ministers?
"Gensoru" in Turkish

NoYesYes
Declare 'no confidence' in the government?No
MPs can only unseat the president by calling early elections
Yes
A government falls if a majority of MPs vote against it
'Constructive no confidence' only
A government falls if a majority of MPs vote against it AND vote to support a replacement
'Constructive no confidence' only
A government falls if a majority of MPs vote against it AND vote to support a replacement
Scrutinise laws by decree (KHKs)?Very few checks on KHKsOnly certain types of KHK allowedFew KHKs allowed. None can restrict rights and freedoms.

Elections

Under both proposals, the 10% electoral threshold would be reduced and presidency would last for longer than a five-year parliamentary term. They differ on the details.

Table #3
Elections
The system todayThe system before 2017Davutoğlu's proposalIstanPol's proposal
Parliamentary election threshold
The national share of the vote a party must receive before it can win seats in parliament

10%10%0%5%
How is president chosen?By public once every five years. Two-term limit, with possibility for a thirdBy the public once every five years. Strict two-term limit.Elected by MPs for a single, seven-year termElected by MPs for one term that is longer than a parliamentary term
Can the president be a member of a political party?YesNoNoNo
Alliances in parliamentary elections allowed?YesNoYes
Right to appeal Election Commission (YSK) decisions to another court?NoNoYes