Will Turkey’s Elections Lead to an Expansion of Presidential Power?

Istanbul-based journalist Dalia Mortada explains how Sunday’s parliamentary election could give Turkish President Erdogan a supermajority, and therefore the authority to change the political system to a presidential one

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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On June 7th, parliamentary elections will be taking place in Turkey. The current majority party, the AKP, will be vying for power against the Kurdish peoples’ democratic party, the HDP. The HDP is currently gaining a lot of support for its promotion of democracy and Kurdish sympathies. However, many claim that Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan is itching for an AKP victory to try and ship the political system from a parliamentary system into a presidential one. Leading up to the elections tensions are running high in Turkey. On Thursday at an HDP election rally an unidentified group opened fire on an HDP campaign bus. Dozens were injured.

Here to discuss this upcoming election is our guest Dalia Mortada. She’s an independent journalist based in Istanbul. Thanks for joining us, Dalia.

DALIA MORTADA, INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: So Dalia, let’s get right to it. What’s the real significance of these elections?

MORTADA: Well, the real significance of these elections basically is that we have a number of parties that are eligible for entering Parliament. We have the AKP, which is the one that’s been in power for 13 years now. We have two other pretty sure thing opposition parties, the CHP and the MHP. Both are relatively nationalistic in varying degrees.

And then we have the HDP, which is this new party that is sympathetic to the Kurdish cause, which has been a part of Turkish politics since Turkey existed. They for the first time are running as a party, and what that means is that they have to surpass the 10 percent threshold in order to be able to enter Parliament. If they surpass that 10 percent threshold they’ll get enough seats to basically sort of stop the very fast moving train that the AKP has been on for the last few years, passing laws and constitutional reforms without paying attention to the minority, which are the other opposition parties.

DESVARIEUX: Dalia, hold on. I just want to ask you about this AKP. You talked about them sort of putting everything on a fast track. But in the West they’re sort of depicted as this democratic, moderate Islamist party that could even be a model for other countries in the Middle East or in North Africa. How would you respond to that?

MORTADA: Well, they did do a lot of reforms. I mean, the AKP has been in power since 2002, which is a really long time. Longer than any one leader can be in power in the United States. And Erdoğan has really been spearheading the party. Technically he’s not part of the party now as the president of the country and not as prime minister, but in the end this is his party.

So he has been around for a really long time. The AKP has been. And they have instituted reforms. One of the biggest things that they’ve managed to do is basically decrease the power of the military so that there can never be a military coup in Turkey, which has happened in the past. They have passed reforms so that people can, for example religious women who wear the headscarf, they can go into schools, public schools, and they can go to public universities. They can work in the public sector, in the government sector.

So there have been reforms that have been passed but in the last few years especially, probably in the last four or five years we can look back, it’s become increasingly majoritarian. I won’t even say authoritarian, though you can point to certain behaviors, especially against journalists, and against listening to dissent and minority voices where you can say this is authoritarian behavior. But it’s definitely majoritarian, where the AKP has basically said well, you know, maybe the minority is 49 percent of this country. But we are the majority, and we’re going to keep passing things through just the way that we want.

There are certain things that they can’t do without having an even higher number of seats beyond the majority, or beyond the plurality. And this parliamentary election, basically, is where we’re going to see, will they get that supermajority. Will they get that number of seats where they can pass major decisions like constitutional reform. And one constitutional reform in particular, in which the system that governs Turkey will be led by the president, which is currently Erdoğan who was elected in August, as opposed to the Prime Minister, who is currently Ahmet Davutoğlu, who entered the office after Erdoğan was elected president.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Let’s talk about–kind of play a hypothetical game here, and let’s say that the AKP does win on Sunday, and they do get that supermajority. What measures do you think that Erdoğan and his party are going to be really pushing for? We talked about the presidential system. But what specific measures are they looking to pass?

MORTADA: Well, that’s the biggest one. That’s the one that everyone is talking about, because basically right now the President, even though he does have a lot of power, I mean, he’s been able to consolidate power in terms of the judicial system to be under the president. He’s been able to sort of allocate a specific fund dedicated to, dedicated to basically anything that he wants. So he has been able to gain a lot of power as president that the president didn’t have before.

But the biggest thing is basically to eliminate the significance of a prime minister at all in Turkey, whereas right now in Turkey the prime minister is the most powerful man in the country. He is the one that campaigns for laws, he’s very political, he’s the image of the nation. And what Erdoğan wants to do is switch that and make him the president. It’s kind of like what Vladimir Putin–it’s actually a lot like what Vladimir Putin did when he went from being prime minister to president.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let’s talk about Kurdish sovereignty, because as we mentioned, the HDP party is really playing up to these Kurdish sympathies. If they were to get that 10 percent, they surpass that 10 percent threshold, what type of measures would we be talking about? What will they be interested in passing, or even bringing up in Parliament?

MORTADA: Well, so the HDP is garnering a lot of excitement from–positive and negative excitement. I mean, they’re the party that’s been attacked the most in this campaign season. And Turkish politics has become so much more polarized in the last couple of months as a result of the entrance of the HDP, which is Kurdish sympathetic, but it’s really sympathetic to–or at least the platform that they’re running on is really sympathetic to all minorities of any sorts. They have candidates that are of Armenian ethnicity, they have an LGBT candidate, they are running on a platform of inclusion and liberalism, and sort of being, like, hey, let’s all be friends. Let’s work together.

They’re not looking for autonomy, they’re not running on a Kurdish platform. They just happen to have this identity because the politicians that come from there, that are a part of the HDP, come from a line of political parties that have been banned or dismantled in the last couple of decades, even, that are Kurdish sympathetic. Most of the representatives are Kurdish, and the [co-chairs] are also Kurdish.

So they–I mean, what they’re going to be doing is sort of trying to put in real liberal values in laws, and sort of, what they say is work towards a more inclusive society. And also, they could possibly stop the constitutional reforms from going through Parliament. We actually don’t know if that’s the case. We don’t know if the HDP will say, you know what, AKP, we’ll give you what you want if you give us what we want. There has been no indication that they would do something like that, but that’s the power that they would have, is by taking away a certain number of seats from the AKP and from anyone else, they basically stop that really fast-moving train, or they have the ability to. They have the ability to say no.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Dalia, we are going to certainly be tracking the elections. I know you will be, too. Thank you so much for joining us.

MORTADA: Thank you.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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