It's generally accepted that a strong separation of powers between the various branches of government is the bedrock of a functioning democracy. But recent comments made by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicating that he believes Turkey's current separation of powers is hindering the country's progress, has left some observers concerned the PM might have a different understanding of how a democracy works.
During a speech made earlier this week in the city of Konya, Erdogan complained of obstacles that had been put in front of his government's efforts to introduce "further services" to the Turkish public. “You know this thing they call the division of powers; this turns up in front of you as an obstruction. The legislature, executive and judiciary in his country must consider the benefit of the nation first and then the benefit of the state,” the PM told his audience.
Erdogan's comments come at a time when the Turkish parliament is in the midst of drafting a new constitution, and there are concerns that MP's from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) are pushing for a document that will give the office of the president -- currently more of a ceremonial position -- increased powers. Of course, the leading contender to become Turkey's next president and the one who would reap the benefits of those expanded powers is Erdogan himself (for more on that subject, take a look at this previous post), which gives the PM's words an added heft. Writes analyst Semih Idiz in the Hurriyet Daily News:
What Erdoğan and the AKP basically want is a president that will have the sole privilege of deciding, without any obstacles from the judiciary or the legislature, what is best for the citizens of Turkey. One assumes, of course, that it will also be the office of the president, and not Parliament, which will hold the purse strings under the AKP’s proposed system.
Erdogan's complaints about the obstacles put forward by Turkey's judiciary and entrenched bureaucracy are not without merit. The system created by the generals who were behind the 1980 coup and the constitution that it led to, which is still being used today, was designed to limit the ability of any elected government to act freely by installing a judiciary and building a bureaucracy whose main obligation was to look out for the interests of the state.
In many ways, Erdogan seems to be following the "Egyptian Model." Like Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who last month issued a decree that gave him almost absolute power and put him beyond the traditional system of checks and balances, Erdogan seems to be saying that the Turkish political structure is so deeply flawed and corrupt that it can't be fixed unless the leadership is allowed to step outside it and rebuild it without any interference. But the PM is asking for too much. After ten years of single party rule and the introduction of various reforms -- including a constitutional amendment that gave the government more power over the appointment of judges -- it's harder for the AKP and Erdogan to claim that they are victims of the system. In fact, they now are the system.