Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan continues his series of renouncing his actions and rules. Let us list the first ones that come to mind. The supremacy of ECHR rulings according to Article 90 of the Constitution, has come up for discussion again with the recent judicial crisis. Exiting the İstanbul Convention against violence against women. The amendment of the right of individual application to the Constitutional Court is a matter of political debate. And now the 50+1 percent threshold, one of the pillars of the Presidential Government System.
On November 17, Erdoğan told reporters on his plane returning from a trip to Germany:
* “The current 50+1 requirement leads parties to the wrong paths. It is not clear whose hand is in whose pocket. Table of Six, table of sixteen… Who knows what else will come out of this? But in terms of the number of votes, when it is said ‘The candidate with the highest number of votes is elected’, the election is completed quickly.”
The 50+1 percent system was enshrined in the Constitution in 2007 when the popular election of the President was adopted. It was applied for the first time in 2014 during Erdoğan’s first presidential election. Erdoğan won the 2018 and 2023 elections thanks to the support he received from the MHP under the leadership of Devlet Bahçeli.
So why does he want to change it now?
This debate is not new. In 2019, Faruk Çelik of the ruling AKP said that the 50+1 percent threshold should be lowered to 40+1 percent, and when asked, Erdoğan did not openly object to it. In 2021, Cemil Çiçek, a member of the Presidential High Advisory Council and former Speaker of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, said that the 50+1 percent threshold increased political polarization and should be abolished, while MHP leader Bahçeli reacted harshly, saying that it was the “basis of the legitimacy” of the Presidential Government System.
In response to a journalist’s question, Erdoğan said for the first time that the 50+1 percent system “leads parties down the wrong path” and that the system of “whoever gets the most votes should be elected” should be returned to.
In the 2002 elections, the AKP came to power alone with only 34.3 percent of the vote. However, ahead of the 2023 elections, most polls put the AKP at around 45-47 percent, and Erdoğan had to recruit partners for the People’s Alliance, from the BBP to Hüda Par, from Yeniden Refah to the DSP.
When Erdoğan says “It is not clear whose hands are in whose pockets”, he is pointing to the Table of Six, which was the Nation Alliance of the opposition, but the situation of his People’s Alliance was no different.
When Erdoğan brings up the 50+1 percent issue, the first thing that comes to mind for most political commentators is that he wants to get rid of the support of the MHP, which he believes has become a shackle on his feet.
Erdoğan and the AKP members may believe that they no longer need Bahçeli and the MHP, but it is hard to believe that the MHP is the main or only reason.
There are several reasons for this.
First, the first thing that the 50+1 percent system, which was justified as the end of the coalition era, has led to a system of alliances that has led to bargaining that makes the coalition era look like a distant memory.
Second, the electoral threshold dropped from 10 percent to 7 percent. This invalidated the perception and discourse that the MHP was dependent on the AK Party to enter Parliament. However, the narrative that the MHP has gained positions through the People’s Partnership, especially in the judiciary and the administrative and security bureaucracy, and that it has negatively affected the AK Party’s Kurdish voter potential is still valid.
The third is the assumption that Erdoğan would not want to offend Bahçeli, the branch he trusts the most when seeking constitutional amendments.
At this point, one wonders whether Erdoğan is preparing for a sharper turn by raising the 50+1 percent issue in this way.
The 100-article constitutional proposal that the MHP made public in 2021 (before the 50+1 percent debate was reopened) was nothing less than a minefield for Erdoğan. From an elected vice-president to ministers being accountable to the Parliament and being able to be dismissed through a vote of confidence, from making the Central Bank a constitutional institution and closed to the President’s intervention, to the Constitutional Court being reduced to nothing…
There is one more critical issue. Erdoğan had justified his third term in the 2023 elections because the Constitution had changed, hence his 2014 presidency could not be counted. Now this reasoning is also invalid. If the Constitution has not changed, Erdoğan cannot run again; or let us say this is Turkey and he should not run again. If there is a new constitution allowing Erdoğan to be a candidate in the next election, with the possibility of being elected repeatedly.
Yet, the parliamentary arithmetic shows that Erdoğan will still have to gather votes even to take the new constitutional text to a referendum, including the HEDEP element and the Kurdish electorate. The CHP presented the draft “Strengthened Parliamentary System” prepared by the Six Table to the Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Numan Kurtulmuş: the CHP does not want a presidential system.
If Erdoğan knocks on the CHP’s door, he may not only give up 50+1 percent but also the presidential system of government, in exchange for the right to run for re-election and the chance to be elected. CHP’s new leader Özgür Özel says, “You can’t make a constitution with those who don’t recognize the constitution”, implying the ongoing judicial crisis, but what he is closing the door to is Erdoğan’s continuation of the current system by strengthening it.
A semi-presidential system, with a prime minister with less executive power but a strong parliament and a judiciary closed to executive interference, has been in the corridors of Ankara for decades. The question is whether Erdoğan will take this strategic turn and whether he will meet with CHP leader Özel with the intention of compromise.
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