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Erdogan Seeks U.S.-Like Presidential System | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan prepares for an interview in New York. Reuters

Ankara-Only a month after becoming prime minister in March 2003, Erdogan told an interviewer that his “desire” was to have a presidential system in Turkey similar to the United States.

After being elected president in August 2014 and defeating the coup bid in July this year, Erdogan has become more determined than ever to fulfill his desire and push his plans forward.

The objective to create a presidential system means Turkey is likely to be heading to a referendum in the first half of 2017, analysts say.

This may create more instability for Turkey’s fragile economy and exacerbate already simmering tensions in society, especially after Erdogan defeated the biggest challenge to his 13-year rule.

However, it will also allow the leader to settle once and for all the question of his powers.

Government officials argue that a full presidential system is needed to legalize what has become a de-facto situation after Erdogan becoming an undisputed leader following the amendments to the position of head of state.

To change the constitution the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Erdogan, needs a super-majority of 367 votes.

The AKP only has 316 seats, excluding Speaker Ismail Kahraman, in the 550-seat National Assembly.

Nonetheless, to introduce the changes in a referendum, the party needs only 330 votes, which could happen if the 40-seat Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of Devlet Bahceli gives its support; the two other opposition parties are likely to be against the move.

Bahceli has not indicated whether his party’s MPs will give the government their support but on Tuesday gave his firmest indication yet it could be prepared to allow the referendum to go ahead.

For his part, Turkey Expert at Chatham House think tank in London Fadi Hakura said that so far Bahceli’s statements indicate “willingness to collaborate” with the AKP to bring about a referendum.

He added there was a “real possibility” the system would be approved in a referendum but warned that the current polarization in Turkey would worsen.

“The presidential system will further intensify the ideological polarization and entrenched conservatism.”

The uncertainty since the issue rose back to the top of the agenda has also hurt the Turkish lira, which has lost over four percent in value against the U.S. dollar over the last month.

Some experts suggest the president could even be tempted to call early legislative elections in 2017 although the government has denied having any such idea.

Michael Harris, global head of research at investment bank Renaissance Capital, warned in a note that the Turkish economy was “on hold” until Erdogan achieved his objectives.

According to Harris, if Erdogan tries to win a super-majority through an early election, it would be the “crux of why we continue to recommend investors take money out of the country.”

But if Erdogan is able to achieve the executive presidency in an accelerated and smoother process, Turkey could find “political equilibrium in 2017,” he said.