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Questions raised on a new presidential system for Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to transition to a presidential system. The EU is following the changes closely but prefers to stick to realpolitik, Professor Ayse Ayata told DW's Seda Serdar.

Deutsche Welle: The new Turkish PM is elected. It is said that he was chosen because he is close to President Erdogan and will support his plan on bringing the presidential system to Turkey. How do you see the role of the new AKP government?

Prof. Ayse Ayata: Well it is self-evident in the question that he will be obedient to the president. One of the reasons why he was chosen was that even though the previous prime minister himself was within the party he had his own agenda and he was following that. We know that this new prime minister will be much more obedient. However, there is a conflict within the system itself because if you are the prime minister it is impossible for him not to have an agenda of his own. So this is why the president wants a presidential system.

DW: Right now the AKP is thinking of a plan B, which is to create a president who is affiliated with a political party. This will need a amendment to the constitution. Do you think this is a back door to the presidential system?

Ayata: Yes. What he's trying to do is that he wants to control the party directly as well as part of the system. So it will be party, in line with the government, in line with the parliament. So this is in a way making a presidential system within a parliamentarian system. Many people close to the president already mentioned that they control the parliament, which is not possible in a parliamentary system; the president has control over the parliament. They control the executive, they control the judiciary. There is no rule of law in that sense. So he's going to have another additional legitimacy by having a party identity. This is what he wants. This is easier to have. Because one of the opposition parties has already agreed to support the AKP on this and that is the National Action Party. This probably won't happen before September.

DW: Do you see early elections in the horizon?

Ayata: No. There is no need for that because he would prefer to go through a referendum. He has already mentioned that if there is going to be any change towards a presidential system. Even if there is the necessary majority in the parliament, he would take it to a referendum because he wants the people's backing as such.

DW: Not only the presidential system but also the Kurdish issue is one of the biggest topics. The Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) is going through tough days. With the recent bill that was passed 139 parliamentarians lost their immunity and 50 of them are from HDP. How do you evaluate this development?

Ayata: Now, with lifting of their immunities, the government will be under two kinds of pressure. One pressure would be coming from their own supporters saying that you have to take action now that you have the legal backing, why don't you take them to court. So this will push them to taking legal action, which would mean that some of the Kurdish HDP MPs will be prosecuted and this will certainly lead to significant clashes and escalate the identity problems. But if they don't do it, then they will be under pressure from their own constituents saying that well there are these significant numbers of deaths and many military and security personnel are dying in the southeast, so why don't you do something. So they are in a very big difficulty now. I don't know whether they really anticipated that this would be the result.

DW: The European Union (EU) is watching Turkey closely. At the same time, the European leaders are hoping to find a solution to the refugee crises together with President Erdogan. With this strategy, is the EU being loyal to itself?

Ayata: We see that the EU is increasingly acting on a realpolitik basis. It's not acting on the basis of European values on two grounds. First, on Turkey that is to say despite a significant authoritarian government, EU is not playing a positive role in this and is not making Turkey understand that accession or a move towards Europe is through European values, on the contrary, it's acting in its own interest. And secondly, it's not being loyal to its values within its territory by making this refugee crisis into a problem of bargaining. So it is serious and it's certainly against European values. In the EU there is this problem and even people who are very high up in the EU, not only Merkel herself, but also Mogherini and others are very much aware of this problem but EU is acting on the basis of interest as many non-European countries would. So, it's a new Europe. It's a new realpolitik Europe.

DW: Isn't this a contradiction? Doesn't Europe need a democratic partner?

Ayata: It is. Well Turkey isn't democratic. Europe knows this and they are not acting to make Turkey into a democratic partner. They are thinking of Turkey as a partner that would act in such a way to comply with their own interests. The interest of the EU now is to stop refugees and Turkey is seen as an opportunity or the present situation is seen as an opportunity by Europe. This certainly creates a lot of frustration in the pro-Europe public opinion in Turkey.

Interviewed by: Seda Serdar

Prof. Dr. Ayse Ayata, teaches at the Middle East Technical University, Department of Political Science and Public Administration in Ankara.