U.S. President Donald Trump’s unbelievable antics are being watched with disbelief around the world. The wish of fiercely anti-American Turks for Trump to win the elections so that he could cause chaos in his country seems to be coming true.
Trump’s progress is nevertheless being watched with great attention among Turkey’s ruling circles for obvious reasons. We are heading for a referendum on whether the country should dump its parliamentary system and adopt a presidential one.
Trump’s controversial executive order regarding immigration from specific countries and the legal challenges this is facing provide objective lessons on the separation of powers in a truly democratic presidential system.
Developments in the U.S. also show why President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
has been reluctant to adopt the American
system in Turkey. He has said in so many words that the executive branch should not be encumbered with restrictions.
Erdoğan and his supporters want a system where the president calls all the shots without any legally challenges. The U.S. is not providing a good example for them in this regard at present.
The U.S. is, however, providing a good example for those who argue that the constitutional changes the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), with support from the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), are proposing will destroy Turkey’s already fragile democracy.
It is not a presidential system, per se, that they are opposed to, but one without any system of checks and balances. Many argue that they would not have a problem with a U.S. type system in Turkey, but this is not what “Team Erdoğan” wants.
It must also be pleasing for Erdoğan’s supporters to see Trump denigrating the judicial branch for enforcing a stay on his executive order on immigration. Erdoğan did the same when the Constitutional Court ruled on behalf of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, forcing the release of journalists he wanted to see in prison.
Trump’s remark that the judges who ruled to stay his executive order will be responsible for terrorism in the U.S. is also a familiar brand of populism for Turks. Trump’s remarks about how his legitimacy comes from the ballot box also have a familiar ring for Turks.
Trump’s travel ban from specific and predominantly Muslim countries has not been fully overturned yet, since there is still a legal process to go through.
The fact that the system of check and balances kicked in instantly to stymie what many are calling Trump’s inhumane travel ban nevertheless shows that the U.S. system of democracy does not facilitate “one-man shows.”
The results of the Trump administration’s legal challenge against the federal court order staying its travel ban will therefore be crucial for Erdoğan and his supporters.
If Trump can sustain this ban, it will provide fresh ammunition for “Team Erdoğan” during its campaign for a “yes” vote in the upcoming constitutional referendum.
It goes without saying that if the judiciary carries the day in line with the U.S. Constitution, this will provide ammunition for the opposition, which is strongly opposed to one-man rule in Turkey.
The other bad news for the AKP is that if the U.S. judiciary prevails over Trump, this will not bode well for the chances of Fethullah Gülen – who stands accused by Ankara
of masterminding the July 15, 2016, coup attempt – being extradited to Turkey.
It will mean, in effect, that even if Trump issues and executive order for his extradition, it could be challenged in court.
This is also why Erdoğan’s supporters are rooting for “Team Trump” at the moment, despite his clearly anti-Islamic stance. Once they have succeeded in changing Turkey’s democratic system, though, it is more than clear that they will start seeing Trump for what he really is.