On February 10, the speaker of Turkey’s parliament, Mustafa Sentop, said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will run for a second presidential term in 2023.
Sentop was responding to opposition questions about the legality of Erdogan running again, since he has already won twice, in 2014 and 2018. Turkey’s reformed constitution contains a two-term limit for presidents, but reforms adopted in Erdogan’s first term complicate matters.
Sentop said a constitutional panel has already discussed this matter in late 2016 and did not object to Erdogan’s candidacy in 2023.
“Mr. President will run for the second time … President Erdogan’s candidacy is in question for the second time, not the third time,” Sentop said.
That is misleading.
Erdogan has held the levers of power in Turkey for almost three decades. He became prime minister in 2003 after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a majority of parliamentary seats in the 2002 elections.
The AKP was the first Islamic party to win elections in Turkey since the Turkish republic was established in 1923 as a secular state.
Erdogan served three consecutive terms as prime minister until 2014, when he was elected president. Then, in July 2016, elements inside Turkey’s army attempted a coup. The takeover failed, but it triggered years of arrests, purges and political reforms that strengthened Erdogan’s powers.
In 2017, Erdogan’s AKP introduced controversial amendments to the constitution to change Turkey from a parliamentary to presidential political system. Erdogan claimed the old system hindered the country’s progress. Voters approved the changes in a 2017 referendum.
Now, the president is elected directly by the people. Under the previous constitution, the president was chosen by parliament.
Also under the revised constitution, the president is limited to two terms of five years. Previously, the term was seven years, and no second term was allowed.
That is where the issue of counting arises. Erdogan was elected under the old constitution in 2014 and again under the new one in 2018. If re-elected in 2023, it would be his third term overall and second term under the new constitution.
Erdogan’s supporters contend that since the new system only came into force in 2019, Erdogan can remain at the helm until 2029 if he runs again and wins. If the parliament called for an early election during his second term, they say he could stay in power until 2034.
Erdogan’s critics, however, say he cannot ignore the old constitution because it was changed by amendment rather than abandoned and replaced. Further, they say the reforms gave the president the chance to run for a third time if the parliament calls for an early election.
Article 116 of the constitution states: “Where the renewal of the elections is decided by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey during the second term of the President of the Republic, he/she may run for the presidency once more.”
Last week, leaders of six opposition parties met in Ankara to discuss restoring Turkey’s parliamentary system. Erdogan dismissed the meeting of opposition leaders, saying: “Nothing will come out from this gathering.”
Turkey is facing its worst economic crisis in two decades, with the annual inflation rate at 36%, the highest since 2002, the year the AKP came to power.
Human rights groups have denounced Erdogan’s post-coup clampdown on civil society and civil servants, mostly in Turkey’s Kurdish southeast.
According to estimates by Turkey Purge, a monitoring website, more than 150,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs; 4,463 judges were dismissed and prosecuted; 94,975 were arrested, including judges, military and civil servants; 6,021 academics were dismissed; 189 media outlets were closed; and 319 journalists were arrested.