26/04/2007 - Analysis
The eleventh President of the Republic since the Republic of Turkey was created on 29th October 1923 will be elected by the Grand National Assembly (Parliament) within the next few days and before 16th May at the latest.
The Role of the President
The President of the Republic is elected for seven years by the Grand National Assembly, the only Chamber in Parliament which comprises 550 members. His term in office is not renewable.
All candidates running for the supreme office must be at least 40 years old and hold a higher education degree. Anyone who is not a member of the Grand National Assembly and who would like to be President of the Republic is obliged to present a number of signatures supporting his bid which represents at least one fifth of the members of Parliament.
The President of the Republic is the guarantor of the Constitution and of the Republic. He leads the National Security Council, an organisation comprising leaders of the four army corps, the chief of staff of the armed forces, the Prime Minister and deputy Prime Ministers as well as the Home, Foreign and Justice Ministers. The President of the Republic also appoints the chief of staff of the armed forces, the Prosecutor at the High Court of Appeal as well as the members of the Constitutional Court, a quarter of those in the State Council, the members of the Military Court of Appeal, the High Military Court of Administration, the Higher Education Council and the Supreme Court of Judges and Prosecutors. Finally he appoints the rectors of the universities.
He appoints the ambassadors, signs and declares international treaties. He may also declare martial law and even a state of emergency. He has the power to convene a referendum, declare or reject laws approved by Parliament. If the latter approves a rejected text for a second time he is then obliged to declare it.
The election of the President of the Republic has to start 30 days before the end of the term in office of the current Head of State and if the latter dies the election occurs ten days after the position has been vacated. Candidates must enrol with the Parliamentary bureau in the first ten days of this month.
The President of the Republic is elected by secret vote and must win the majority of two thirds of the vote of the Grand National Assembly – 367 out of 550. If no candidate wins the required number of votes after two rounds of voting that take place three days apart, a third round is organised during which a simple majority of the votes is required (276) to be elected. If the third round also fails a fourth round bringing the two leading candidates face to face is organised. Finally if this ultimate round of voting does not lead to the choice of a new President, general elections are convened to appoint a new Parliament which is then responsible for organising a new presidential election.
The election of the eleventh President of the Republic will take place on 27th April, when the first round will be held. A second round will be organised three days later, then if MPs still have not appointed a new Head of State a third round will be organised on 9th May. The new President has to be elected before 16th May when the present President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's term in office comes to an end.
Just a few months ago the leader of the Motherland Party (ANAP), Erkan Memcu said that he supported the idea of electing the President of the Republic by universal suffrage. This question has been the focus of many debates over the last few years. In 1989, under the presidency of Turgut Ozal (1989-1993), the issue was discussed and the option of electing the Head of State by the people was finally rejected since most politicians believed that Turkey was not ready to start along the path of a presidential system. The same arguments are still being used today by opponents of an election by universal suffrage. They say that the presidential system which provides one man with a great amount of power would erode Turkish democracy and open the way to an authoritarian regime. Those against the election of the Head of State by the people would like the country to enhance its legal system beforehand so that this would play the role of a true counterbalance.
Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the first President of the Republic in Turkish history not to emanate from the ranks of politics was elected as Head of State on 16th May 2000. He succeeded Süleyman Demirel who occupied the post from 1993 to 2000. The latter who is deeply attached to the secular nature of the republic has occasionally called the present Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Justice and Development Party AKP) to order. Ahmet Necdet Sezer, a former judge at the Constitutional Court used his veto against a great number of laws which in his eyes infringed secularity, which is part of the Constitution and prevented the appointment of some personalities he believed to be too close to radical Islamic circles.
The polemic surrounding the candidature of Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The possibility of the present Prime Minister standing for presidency has been the major and only point of debate in this presidential election. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an emblematic figure in the political arena since he took office as Prime Minister in 2002 originates from a movement that was against the Republic for a long time. He qualifies himself as a conservative democrat. Although he has not transformed Turkey into an Islamic Republic over the last five years the Prime Minister has sometimes frightened a part of the population by expressing the desire, for example, of abolishing the ban on wearing headscarves in schools and public offices or of providing financial support to religious schools. During his term in office he also tried to make adultery a crime before being called to order by the European Union; several towns governed by the Justice and Development Party have approved measures to reduce the consumption of alcohol. Finally the recent suggestion by the Culture Minister Atilla Koc to add three letters to the Turkish alphabet (a Latin alphabet) in order to for it to provide more Arabic sounds did not help to calm matters down. In a poll undertaken in March on third of Turks support the AKP but only one third say they want Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be elected as President of the Republic.
On 13th April last the present Head of State, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, delivered a speech to the War Academy in Istanbul which was somewhat alarmist maintaining that the secular system was threatened in Turkey, "in a way that it never has been since the country was founded (...) foreign powers want to transform Turkey into a moderate Islamic Republic." The following day over 300, 000 people gathered in the capital of Ankara and walked to the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first President from 1923 to 1938, after an appeal on the apart of the Support Group for the Memory of Atatürk (ADD) and various political parties in order to say "no" to the candidature of Recep Tayyip Erdogan as President of the Republic. Deniz Baykal, leader of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and Zeki Sezer, chairman of the Democratic Left Party (DSP) attended the demonstration. "Hundreds of thousands of people met in Ankara and influenced this decision. It is a victory for democracy," said Deniz Baykal when the Prime Minister announced that he would not run for Presidency. The Nationalist Action Party (MHP), led by Mehmet Sandir was also against Erdogan since the latter, in their eyes, has always been against the republican system and its values.
On 24th April after weeks of suspense the Prime Minister officially decided to give up the race for the position of Head of State saying that his party (AKP) had chosen Abdullah Gül, the present Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as their candidate. "Following our search for a candidate to become the eleventh President of the Republic we agreed on Abdullah Gül," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The candidate organised a press conference in which he maintained his attachment to the secularity of the State. "The President of the Republic must be loyal to secular principles. If Parliament elects me as President no one should doubt that I shall act according the principles and rules of the Constitution," he declared. Abdullah Gül asked everyone to respect his wife Hayrunisa who like most wives of the Ministers of the AKP party wears the veil.
The candidature of Abdullah Gül has not put an end to the polemic though. "His beliefs are not different from those of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nothing proves that he is sincerely loyal to the core of the secular Republic and the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk," said Vice President of the Republican People's Party, Mustafa Ozyürek.
In addition to this the latter has threatened to start court proceedings in order to cancel the vote if two thirds of the members of the Grand National Assembly, i.e. 367, are not present during the first round of voting on 27th April, arguing that if this were the case a second round could not be organised. Parliament spokesperson, Bülent Arinc (AKP), rejected this threat saying that the presence of 184 MPs (the minimum number of MPs required by the Constitution) is enough to continue with the presidential election. The AKP party has 354 seats in Parliament so therefore it will require the support of fourteen other MPs in order to reach the quorum demanded by the Republican People's Party. In this case the AKP will certainly try to win over some members of the True Path Party (DYP) and the Motherland Party (ANAP).