The Prime Minister as President?

Czajka, Agnes (2014). The Prime Minister as President? Jadaliyya



On 26 July, Turkish citizens began voting in the first round of the first direct presidential elections in the history of the Turkish Republic. Voting began at Turkish embassies and at the forty-two polling stations set up at Turkish land crossings, harbors, and airports; it will continue until 10 August, when Turkish citizens residing in Turkey will cast their ballots.

Following a 2007 referendum, direct presidential elections replaced the existing system, in accordance with which the president was elected by the Turkish parliament. Under the new electoral system, a candidate must secure an absolute majority of the popular vote (fifty percent plus one) to claim first round victory. Should no candidate secure an absolute majority, the two candidates with the highest percentage of the popular vote will compete in a second round of elections, scheduled—and widely expected to take place—on 25 August.

The election is historic for its “firsts.” It is the first direct presidential election in Turkish history. It is also the first election in which Turkish citizens living abroad can cast a ballot at embassies. Since the same opportunity was not afforded in parliamentary elections, the issue has attracted criticism, with some accusing the current government of trying to capitalize on the popularity of Prime Minister and presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan among Turkish expats, particularly in Germany.

But the election could also be historical for its “lasts.” If the Prime Minister becomes president (as is widely expected, after the second round), the current president, Abdullah Gül, may be the last to have held a largely ceremonial post in a parliamentary republic. Declaring that the times of a passive presidency are over, Erdoğan has pledged to be an “active” president, and expressed interest in transforming the office into an executive presidency, with greater and more wide-reaching powers. Suggesting that nothing should happen in a state without the authorization of the president, as head of state, Erdoğan has promised active involvement in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In the context of the increasing authoritarianism, paternalism, and micromanagement that had characterized the Prime Minister’s third term in office, that is precisely what his critics fear.

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