Turkey is gearing up for a historical referendum on April 16, when voters will decide whether or not to approve constitutional amendments that will shift Turkey's current parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
These changes have sparked a variety of questions outside of Turkey, ranging from curiosity about what the proposed changes will entail to whether the changes will provide greater opportunities or challenges for Turkey.
On March 30, THO hosted Prof. Dr. Gulnur Aybet (Professor of International Relations at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul) and Mr. Howard Beasey (President of the American-Turkish Council) for a conversation on proposed constitutional changes in Turkey and the possible impact of Turkey’s potential transition to an executive presidency on U.S.-Turkey relations. The discussion was moderated by Yenal Kucuker, THO’s Executive Director.
Proposed changes seek to resolve issues in the1982 constitution
Dr. Aybet, who was recently made an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, explained to the audience that there have long been discussions in Turkey regarding the possibility of transitioning to a political system with an executive presidency. She noted that Turkey is not a “classical” parliamentary system, describing the presidency as enshrined in the 1982 constitution – which was adopted after the 1980 military coup d’etat – as an “organ of tutelage” with unchecked power and the added expectation that the president would come from a military background.
She noted that the proposed changes to Turkey’s constitution will instate greater checks on the president’s power than currently exist. For example, she mentioned that currently the president can only be subject to a criminal investigation if he or she has committed treason; the proposed amendments would broaden the types of crimes for which a president could be tried and possibly impeached.
Questions regarding stability
Mr. Beasey noted that Americans, especially those from the business community, are closely following the outcome of the referendum. For the American business community, the overarching question is whether the outcome – regardless of whether the presidential system is adopted or not – will result in a resolution of current issues regarding political risk and instability due to security concerns in Turkey.
The key concern for the American business community is that Turkey stabilizes and remains conducive to doing business. Mr. Beasey commended Turkey for bringing these important changes to a referendum, noting that it signals how much trust the Turkish government has in its people to decide on this issue.
Prospects for U.S.-Turkey relations
Mr. Beasey said he did not believe that the result of the referendum would lead to changes in the U.S.-Turkey relationship overnight. He noted that if the presidential system is adopted, it will not take effect until 2019. He also noted that if it is adopted, the American business community will be looking to see greater stability in Turkey, both politically and in terms of security. He noted that President Erdogan has said that a presidential system will allow for less political chaos. Mr. Beasey said that if the system is instated, the government and President Erdogan will be expected to deliver on this promise.
Dr. Aybet mentioned that the facts about these amendments have not been disseminated effectively in the West, resulting in misunderstandings about both the reasons for a proposed transition to an executive presidency and the particulars of that office’s responsibilities. She said that Turkey has been turned inwards and preoccupied with its internal “struggle for transformation” and emphasized that there needs to be greater public engagement outside of Turkey on this issue.