After the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) organized its extraordinary congress on May 22, 2016. The congress was organized -similar to previous ones- with only one leadership candidate; Binali Yıldırım. Yıldırım was chosen as the party’s new chair by taking nearly all votes and was assigned by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to form the new government. Without any doubt, Mr. Yıldırım will become Turkey’s new Prime Minister soon. But this will not solve Turkey’s democratic problems as well as disputes about its political system.
Binali Yıldırım (61) is often defined as one of the most successful members of the AKP cabinets since he has been the Minister of Transport, Maritime and Communication for 11 years (longest serving person in this position in Turkey) and often credited as one of the architects of AKP’s giant infrastructural projects together with Mr. Erdoğan. Yıldırım is known as a man of action who speaks rarely. He does not engage in political disputes with other members of the parliament. When he speaks; he either announces a new project or tells a joke. He speaks slowly and with words of ordinary people. He also speaks French and English as foreign languages. He is from Erzincan and he represents pious Anatolian people who want to see Turkey moving up in the world and enjoying better economic conditions. He loves technology and uses social media tools like Facebook and Twitter frequently. His rhetoric is not divisive and he might have more support from young and secular Turks who do not approve Erdoğan’s authoritarian and arrogant Islamist style. Thus, he might be a good choice for this position. But he will have an important disadvantage; he is presented by Turkish and international media as well as opposition parties as an associate of Erdoğan who does not have his own will. This might be seen as a weakness by Turkish voters who prefer strong and populist leaders. Students of Turkish Politics will remember the fall of ANAP (Motherland Party), a center-right political party that governed Turkey between 1983 and 1991 and scattered into pieces after the election of its charismatic leader Turgut Özal as the President of the Republic and the replacement of Özal with a so-called low profile figure Mr. Yıldırım Akbulut. This will be the biggest disadvantage of Binali Yıldırım.
Knowing this weakness, Binali Yıldırım admitted during the Congress that he will try to change Turkish constitution and to bring a new Presidential system which will be fulfilled by Mr. Erdoğan. Presidential system discussion in Turkey is no longer a taboo, which might be seen in fact as a positive step. But there is a fundamental problem in Erdoğan’s Turkish-type Presidentialism; Erdoğan wants to establish a Presidential system as in the Central Asian Turkic Republics. Turkey, as a country that practices parliamentary system since 1876 and democracy since 1950, should take more democratic Presidential systems like USA or a democratic semi-Presidential system like France as its new model. Turkic states are largely authoritarian; this might be reasonable in their own specific conditions since these countries are recently established after the fall of communism and are still under the strong influence of Russia’s authoritarian political culture. But Turkey, a country officially aiming to become a European Union member and have very close economic, cultural, political and military ties with the Western states, should take inspiration from Western capitals. Looking objectively, in fact Turkey could act itself as a model to Central Asian states even with its current socioeconomic status and political system much more developed than these countries. However, Erdoğan wants to dominate the political scene by himself alone and does not explain clearly why he wants his powers to be unchecked. His rhetoric of not being able to rule Turkey with current system might be in fact correct; but then Turkish people expect from him to explain what is wrong with the parliamentary system or a democratic Presidentialism as in the case of USA.
This will be the key political issue in Turkey together with rising terrorist activities of PKK, growing concerns about political Islam and ISIS threat and deteriorating relations with Russia in the following months. Transition into Presidentialism now seems more possible, especially after the lifting of the immunity of Turkish parliamentarians by three “Turkish” parties: AKP (JDP), CHP (RPP) and MHP (NAP). This might be followed by a by-election in which AKP might dominate against pro-Kurdish HDP (PDP) in south-eastern villages whose demographics have changed considerably in recent months due to military operations and forced migrations imposed on Kurdish people both by the state and PKK. However, Kurdish people might also consider the removal of its elected representatives from the Turkish parliament as an attack to their democratic rights and vote largely in favor of pro-Kurdish PDP again.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ