This article was published in Arab News on July 16, 2018.
‘No excuses’ as Turkey adopts new system of government
Turkey moved to a new method of governance called “executive presidency” with a lavish ceremony held last week in Ankara. The framework for this model of governance was approved in the constitutional referendum of 2017. In the June 24 elections held according to this constitutional amendment, Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the required majority and assumed his new functions. The preparations had been under way for months and a voluminous decree of 143 pages was published to transform Turkey into an executive presidency.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by 22 heads of state. Another group of 20 countries was represented by prime ministers, deputy prime ministers or high-level dignitaries. The highest representation was from the Balkan countries, followed by Africa, mainly sub-Saharan. The highest-level representatives from the Arab world were the emir of Qatar and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.
The main difference from Turkey’s former method of governance is the concentration of power in the hands of the president. Another difference is the number of ministerial posts and the way the Cabinet is appointed. The number of ministers has been reduced from 26 to 16 and they are not picked from members of parliament. If an MP is appointed as a minister, they lose their parliamentary seat. The selection of ministers was an important aspect of the constitutional changes. The proportion of politicians in the new Cabinet is less than professionals. Public Health Minister Dr. Fahrettin Koca is the owner of a chain of hospitals, Education Minister Ziya Selcuk owns a group of private schools, Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy is the owner of a successful tourism agency, and Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan is the deputy chairperson of the council of women entrepreneurs.
This structure is different from a classical council of ministers, where politicians dominate the Cabinet. Here, they have no political power base; they are picked by the president because of their successful performance in their respective fields and can be dismissed if they turn out to be unsuccessful.
Erdogan has announced three areas as his priorities: The fight against terror, the economy, and foreign policy. The choice of ministers for these three posts indicates he will maintain his policy in these areas. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu is remembered for his threatening words to the co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) last month. “You have no right to live in this country,” he told her. He also instructed provincial governors not to allow the heads of the local branches of the main opposition party to attend the funerals of soldiers killed by the PKK terrorist organization. Erdogan’s reappointment of Soylu to the same post indicates he is going to pursue the same policy in the new era.
For the post of treasury and finance minister, there was an expectation to see a figure who could dispel the misgivings of potential foreign investors. Erdogan appointed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is known as a growth-friendly minister, meaning construction works may again gain prominence, as they have done for most of the Erdogan era. The exchange rate market reacted immediately to Albayrak’s appointment, with the Turkish lira falling in value against the US dollar. The markets will probably remain volatile until a consistent and persuasive economic plan for the short and medium terms is announced.
This structure is different from a classical council of ministers, where politicians dominate the Cabinet
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also maintained his post, meaning there will not be significant changes in foreign policy.
The terms of service of a wide range of senior bureaucrats will be tied to the term of the president, so they will have to resign their posts when the president’s term comes to an end. This includes 75 categories of high-ranking officials, provincial governors, ambassadors, and heads of major institutions such as intelligence, the central bank, religious affairs, and radio and television. This rule will encourage almost the entire state bureaucracy to work hard for the success of the president.
The independence of the central bank has also been curtailed. This was expected as Erdogan has repeatedly said that the bank has to support the government’s economic policy, rather than act independently.
Nine councils have been established under the president to cover almost all areas of state administration. Their main task will be to promote the proposals and monitor the activities of the ministries. They may be regarded as supra-ministerial bodies that oversee all state affairs on behalf of the president. If they are filled with qualified personnel, they may render valuable services.
As the president underlined during the inauguration ceremony, there is no excuse for a lack of success by the new administration. However, some confusion may arise from time to time, especially during the transition period, since this system has never been tested anywhere in the world.
There is nothing that one can do but keep one’s fingers crossed.