The Turkish Presidential Model: A Hybrid System?

  • Mustafa AltunokEmail author
Living reference work entry



The Turkish Presidential Model is the latest system of government that entered into force in Turkey. This system can be expressed as a Hybrid Model because it can not be explained by one of the theoretically discussed main systems. Since it is a model that does not suit to the pure version of the main prominent democratic systems (parliamentarism, presidency and semi-presidency), but has some common characteristics with all of them, it may be regarded as a hybrid system. This new model brings into force such a system that may be defined as a strong presidential system based on the parliamentary.


Democratic systems are mainly divided into three groups which are the presidential system (American model), the semi-presidential system (French model), and the parliamentary system (British model). It is not quite possible to locate the political system preference of the Republic of Turkey within this classification. It would be appropriate to look at the development process of the political system in Turkey in order to see through the historical background of the current system and understand the progress made without mentioning the remarkable aspects of the model of the system introduced by the 2017 referendum and named as the Turkish Presidential system. In this chapter, the traits of the Turkish Political System as of the years of the Ottoman Empire, with a focus on the current systemic change will be evaluated.

The Historical Development of Government Systems in Turkey: The Years of the Ottoman Empire

The positions of legislative, executive, and judicial powers, known as the three main power of the political system, in relation to each other and their relationship with each other help the political system acquire its quality. Within this context, Turkey’s democratization adventure that began in last period of the Ottoman Empire advanced with constitutional developments and different political models were encountered within this process.

The name of the first model encountered can be expressed as a parliamentary monarchy. Although it bears qualities of the structure and functioning of a great many Eastern and Western state organizational structures, the state structure of the Ottoman Empire can not be said to be the same as the Western monarchs in the classical sense, especially with the Byzantine. Westernization, which started in the late period of the empire, and attempts to be a part of the modern world in terms of the political system first manifested itself in 1876 Constitution. This Constitution, known as Kanun-ı Esasiye (The Ottoman Basic Law), separated execution from the legislative body and a dual parliamentary structure was formed with the name of the Heyeti Ayan (The Chamber of Notables or Senate) and the Heyeti Mebusan (The Chamber of Deputies). Members of Heyeti Mebusan were determined by a limited election, whereas Members of Heyeti Ayan were personally elected by the Sultan. In this system where the executive power was possessed by the Sultan, the Sultan was using the authority with the Committee of Ministers (Gözübüyük 1997). However, it is not possible to talk about the existence of a parliamentary system as in the English system, since the Committee was solely accountable to the Sultan and not to the Parliament.

From The Parliamentary Government System to Presidential Parliamentarism

The 1921 Constitution adopted a parliament-centred government system called the Parliamentary Government since it coincided with Independence War years and since the new state was not formally established at that time. In this model, legislative and executive powers were gathered in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. There were no official ministries and presidential mechanism in the system where parliamentarians were appointed by the parliament and taken out of office. The consecutive 1924 Constitution adopted a mixed system as a transition to the parliamentary system. In this model, called the Unity of Powers and Separation of Duties System because of its mixed nature, there is a government composed of the president and ministers, although the Assembly is still very strong (Özbudun 1998: 20–33).

The 1961 and 1982, Constitutions are based on the parliamentary system. As is known, the moderate separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers is essential in this system. In essence, both implementations are referred to as parliamentary systems because the parliamentary system, besides the separation of the moderate forces, bears some other characteristics, most of which are available in the systems introduced by the 1961 and 1982 constitutions (Gözler 2007: 45–53). For example, as generally adopted in the parliamentary system, the execution has two headings: a politically responsible and executive prime minister and a ministerial board in coordination with him; on the other hand, there is a politically irresponsible president or representatives of dynasty who have the authority to represent the state. Moreover, in this model (where they may be exceptions), the president, who is generally objective, neutral, and above party member identity, is elected not by the people directly but by the parliament. While the 1961 Constitution foresees a model closer to the pure state of the parliamentary system, the constituent power which prepared the 1982 Constitution preferred to strengthen the execution and especially the presidency, which is executive’s irresponsible wing, due to some problems experienced in the pre-1980 period. Therefore, according to this system, the determinant power of the presidency increased in terms of the installations and the executive system. It seems that the presidential authority, which is the irresponsible wing of the execution, became stronger with three basic mechanisms as 1982 Constitution adopted. These can be listed as the Secretary General of the Presidential Office, the Presidential Decree, and the State Supervisory Board and their characteristics. In addition to these installations, the Presidential Office was given the right to determine the majority of the heads and members of the constitutional institutions. For this reason, some authors state that this system is stronger than the semi-presidential system and even call it presidential parliamentarism. Despite all these features, according to the first version of the 1982 Constitution, the president was elected by the parliament, not directly elected by the people. With the constitutional amendments enforced in 2007, this situation was changed and the procedure of electing the President directly by absolute majority of people was introduced and the level of representation was further increased. Thus, a model which is named parliamentary system but which approaches the presidential system more closely emerged.

The State of Affairs After the 2017 Constitutional Referendum

By the year 2017, the system obtained its final state with a new constitutional referendum. First of all, overwhelming majority of the provisions introduced by the 2017 constitutional amendment will enter into force after 2018. The name of the new implementation put forward by these constitutional amendments is called Turkish Type Presidential System or Turkish Presidential System. Regardless of the changes introduced with the referendum and the features of the new system, it should be noted that this system was not anticipated; however, it developed as a result of the exceptional circumstances experienced in the aftermath of the 15 July coup attempt. For that reason, it is difficult to say that the system is prepared with a long enough public debate and an achieved consensus. On the other hand, despite some incomplete and problematic aspects, this constitutional amendment and the basic features of the new system were not created under the control of a military structure like the previous constituent powers, but by the support of purely civilian political parties.

The old system had significant problems. As a result of the fact that the President is elected by the people, among the responsible and irresponsible wings of the execution there occurred the risk of system blockage due to development of disagreements regarding subjects such as the establishment of the ministerial board, senior appointments, the approval of the legislation, and so on. In such a systematic crisis, the government, which constitutes the performative wing of the execution, and the president, who is the irresponsible wing holding the handbrake of the executive wing, often confronted. Taking into consideration that in the past serious problems were experienced between the presidents and governments with the same political tradition and even from the same political party, it would be almost impossible to carry out the work if the president and the government with very different political ideologies were in the same office. In case of dissidence that would be encountered when both the prime minister and is a parliamentarian elected by the people and the President is elected by the people it would be inevitable to question who will be held responsible or whose legitimacy is bigger.

One of the most decisive elements in the Turkish political system, which is specified in the 1982 Constitution, is the obligation of organizing the election laws in a way that will conform to the principles of justice in representation and stability in administration. This, on the one hand, aims to promote democratization but, on the other hand, aims to ensure administrative stability. When we look at the issue in terms of the parliamentary system as one of the representative democracy and as a system it embodies, politicians frequently express that it is difficult to achieve both at the same time and that it is necessary to renounce from one to prefer the other. Because providing justice in representation requires the removal of the electoral threshold or the reduction of the election threshold to a very low level. Otherwise, political parties that receive millions of votes are either unable to represent themselves in the parliamentor they are not adequately represented because they are hindered by the minimum election threshold. On the other hand, if there is no electoral threshold or if it is too low, justice is achieved in the representation, but this time parliament is faced with a multi-component structure. As a result, it becomes almost impossible to have a strong ruling party, and coalition governments that are difficult to establish and easy to disperse quickly become inevitable. In this respect, it is seen that the parliamentary system in Turkey has been debated and criticized for a long time. On the other hand, it is fair to say that Turkey has been managed by a parliamentary system for decades, and it has a political experience in this context. In addition, the entire political and administrative organization is structured in line with the characteristics of the parliamentary system. From this point of view, it is undoubted that a system change will be accompanied by material and moral disadvantages. One of the main arguments highlighted in the 2017 referendum is the idea of providing justice in the representation and stability in administration together. Besides, the administrative structure of the presidency system brought forward is also advocated because it will be able to benefit from the administrative functioning quickly and effectively. What kind of system is this system in the first place?

The characteristics of the new system can be summarized as follows: In this system, which is called the presidential system, the presidential election procedure does not change much from the last application. The previously accepted referendum procedure will also apply to the new system. Citizens who meet the basic requirements for nomination can be nominated by the parties who have received 5% of the current votes or 100 thousand signatures. The president who takes office for 5 years may have the right to be elected for the second time. As the head of the state and the government, the president can use the executive power on its own, and the dual-headed administration in the parliamentary system ends because the prime ministry and the council of ministers are abolished in this model. Another change in the system is the increase of the number of parliamentarians in parliament from 550 to 600. In addition, the president is given the authority to appoint their deputies, ministers, and all senior public officials. Moreover, the system has been changed in such a way that the President directly elects the four of the members of Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors, where the Minister of Justice and his undersecretary will become natural members, whereas seven of them will be selected by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Similarly, three members of the Constitutional Court, whose number of members has been reduced to 15, will be appointed by the Assembly and the remaining 12 members will be selected by the President. As it is evident, the determinant power of the President has been further increased with regard to senior appointments.

With the amendment made, the party presidential model has been adopted. In this model, the obligation to cut off the connection with the party of the President, which had a more symbolic meaning in the previous application, has been lifted. It is called symbolic because although in the old system since many presidents have been chosen as candidates for the party they have established and they have officially cut off their ties with their parties, it is difficult to say that they cut their ties completely in reality.

As it is known, according to the 1982 Constitution, while the parliamentary system is in effect, there is a Presidential Decree application. However, in that implementation, while the Presidential Decree was limited to the foundation of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, its organization and functioning rules, and the appointment of personnel, the scope of the decree to be enforced by the Presidency in the new system has been expanded. Accordingly, the President may issue a presidential decree on issues regarding executive power. However, a restriction has been made in this matter, and a provision has been adopted that the presidential decree cannot be issued in matters that are clearly laid down in the Law. In addition, fundamental rights and freedoms and political rights and freedoms are excluded from the scope of decree of the president. This regulation has two meanings: Firstly, in case there is not a relevant law or there is a legal gap, the President may issue a presidential decree having the power of law, which may be considered as a legislative function in a sense. The second dimension of the matter is related to whether this regulation is law or not. To be more precise, since the Presidential decree is not a law in a formal sense, the parliament may terminate the enforcement of these decrees by enforcing laws.

With this arrangement, it is aimed to ensure that the president as a head of the execution can make decisions more quickly and effectively. It is argued that this regulation will bear some risks as it will surely accelerate the functioning of things. With a similar arrangement, the authority to issue statute, which was the duty of Council of Ministers, was abolished, and the President was given the authority to issue regulations for the execution of laws. The Regulation is already a type of legislation present in the system and the actual application of the laws in the existing system is ensured by means of statutes. Therefore, the statute is placed higher than the regulation in the hierarchy of norms. Since the statute has been lifted in the new practice and the application of the regulation in the classical sense continues, it is possible that the regulations that will serve as statues may cause some confusion and difficulties. In this sense, even if the name is not a statute, there is a need for a regulatory procedure separate from the classical regulations that will replace it.

Another regulatory authority granted to the presidency is the state of emergency issue. This authority previously enjoyed by the Council of Ministers has now been transferred to the President. The President is now authorized to declare a state of emergency if the conditions set forth in laws are fulfilled. The presidential decrees to be issued during the state of the emergency period will not be subject to the restrictions in the ordinary period. Therefore, the president will be able to issue a decree on fundamental rights and freedoms and the presidential decrees to be issued during the state of emergency period will not be taken to the Constitutional Court for cancellation.

In the new system, there is also a difference in the supervision of the President. Since previously the parliamentary system adopted the concept of irresponsible presidency of the parliamentary system, the President could not be put on trial except for treason. With the new amendment, in view of the allegation that the President has committed a crime, it will be possible to start an investigation about the President with the proposal that the absolute majority of the Assembly members presents. However, in order to make the decision of the investigation 3/5, and in order to bring it to the Supreme Court 2/3 majority is stipulated. As in the previous procedure, parliament can exercise its authority of supervision by means of “parliamentary inquiry, general meeting, parliamentary investigation and written question.” But the application of “no confidence” has been terminated.

Another very significant change concerns the organization of the Turkish Grand National Assembly and presidential elections. With the amendment brought by referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections will be held on the same day every 5 years. In addition, the President can decide on the renewal of the parliamentary elections without any justification and condition. Likewise, parliament will be able to decide on the renewal of the elections with a majority of 3/5 of the total number of members. This arrangement is striking because, as it is known, the principle of distinctive or solid separation of powers in the classical presidential system is determinant; neither legislation can put an end to the legal entity of the execution nor execution can annul the legislative body and hold new elections. In the parliamentary system, however, the government can be dismissed from the duty by the legislative body by motion of non-confidence before the period of office comes to an end. The arrangement introduced here makes both ways clear. Also, since the balance-balance mechanism is evident in the presidential system, parliamentary elections and presidential elections are often held in different times and for different periods. It is predicted that the forces will balance each other accordingly. However, in this model, as can be understood from the arrangement made, elections are held for the same duration and together.


To summarize briefly, a new model called the Turkish-type presidency or presidential system was introduced with the 2017 referendum. The demands in this regard are not new but currently things are the result of the extraordinary circumstances in the country. It cannot be said that the system is neither a presidential model nor a parliamentary system. It is possible to say that it is a strong presidential system based on the parliamentary system in terms of its main features. This system is likely to face many problems in the course of time. The first important issue in this sense is adapting the public administration apparatus to the new system by enforcing the harmonization laws as soon as possible since it is necessary to make changes in hundreds and perhaps thousands of the laws.



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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Administration DepartmentAbant İzzet Baysal UniversityBoluTurkey