Turkey’s President, Long Nation’s Neutral Figure, To Become Partisan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

A constitutional referendum, which was approved by a slight majority of the Turkish people on April 16, will go into effect in 2019. The historic change enables the president to become head of both the state and a political party in Parliament.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not wait that long to return to the party he founded, propelled to power in 2002 and finally left 3 years ago for the presidential office.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) takes steps to pave way for return of the party’s legendary founder, the towering figure of Erdogan whose mark on every sectors and layer of the party has never ceased to exist. Even after his ascent to the presidential office in August 2014 after the first popular presidential elections in republican history, President Erdogan’s shadow, or more rightly, the influence was always there.

He overrode the long-running tradition and constitutional provision that kept the president out of partisan, day-to-day business of politics. He chaired cabinet meetings, campaigned for his party in both parliamentary elections and the recent referendum.

He acted as an executive president. The referendum, after all, was about to make that ‘de facto’ situation a ‘de jure’ one, providing a legal framework to an already established political reality.

The party announced that President Erdogan would again become a member of the party on May 2. The ruling party will hold a party congress on May 21, the day when President Erdogan is expected to assume the title of party chairmanship.

While the constitutional amendment will be in effect in 2019 when the president’s term expires, the party sees no problem to put forward the scheme into action before its original date by opening AKP’s doors to Mr. Erdogan next month.

Offering a legal argument to make the case for the president’s return to the party, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says there is no obstacle for President Erdogan’s membership to the party after the referendum.

In a contested referendum driven by allegations of fraud and lingering dispute over the result, 51.4 percent of voters backed the constitutional proposal while 48.6 percent of people voted No.

Turkey’s opposition reacted with incredulity and fury when Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) decided to accept ballot papers without official stamps while still counting votes. The last-minute ruling called the legitimacy of the entire vote into question, with the opposition unsuccessfully tried to challenge the result.

According to main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and People’s Democracy Party (HDP), as many as 2.5 million unstamped ballots were accepted by the YSK in clear-cut contradiction of the election law.

President Erdogan warned the opposition over efforts questioning the result. He depicted such efforts as futile and said applications for annulment of the vote are doomed to fail. His remarks spoke to the political reality of the day, as opposition resigned to its fate after the unsuccessful challenge.

After the referendum, President Erdogan made clear his intention of returning to the party as its leader once official results are announced.

At the party congress on May 21, he is expected to be the only candidate for leading the party. Mr. Yildirim, the caretaker leader of the AKP, replaced with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu last May after Mr. Erdogan asked Mr. Davutoglu’s resignation.

A staunch Erdogan loyalist, Mr. Yildirim carried out his mission by steering the country into presidential referendum which delivered President Erdogan the crowning achievement of his political career, an event that spawned a new era for Turkey’s modern political history.

The referendum, which took place under the state of emergency that saw an unrelenting political crackdown on government opponents, a fraying free media, and mass arrests of critics, bestows near-dictatorial powers on the presidential office.

The president will appoint vice-presidents, all ministers, senior judges and prosecutors, senior bureaucrats, and will be able to issue decrees with the full force of law. He will be able to dissolve Parliament, call for new elections, lead the intelligence agency and the military.

An expanded Parliament from 550 deputies to 600 will not able to question his appointments, policies of the cabinet and will rather be a rubber-stamp for the executive office. With the president able to hold both party leadership and the presidency, lines between the executive and legislative powers will be disappeared to the detriment of separation of powers, a central pillar of any modern democracy.

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