Rebalancing Branches of Government in Turkey by Strengthening Parliament

  • Zafer Ganioglu

Turkey’s system of checks and balances had been imbalanced for years. The 2017 Constitutional Referendum worsened the situation with the transformation from a parliamentary system toward a stricter separation of powers in favor of the executive branch. Since the president can continue to serve as the chairperson of the ruling party, the executive branch retains its influence and control over Parliament. In terms of its legislative duties, Parliament operates with de facto control of the executive branch. While legislation drafts should be solely prepared by the members of Parliament in the new system, parliamentary groups of parties have strict control over policy proposals via approval procedures. 

In addition, the ruling parties may avoid cross-party cooperation and control the decision-making procedures because of their legislative majority, which eliminates room for legislative proposals from the opposition parties. In the last term of Parliament, none of the drafts that were submitted to by opposition party MPs were accepted. Most of them were not even brought to the agenda of the General Assembly. Many people believe that the Turkish Parliament is no longer important to the nation’s democratic processes because of the concentration of power in the executive branch and the overly political nature of the legislative process. However, Parliament still possesses several legal capabilities under the current presidential system of government, which, if used properly, might restore the legislative branch to the center of attention of Turkey’s democracy.  

The International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Bolstering Accountable Leadership through Legislative Advisory Strengthening Training (BALLAST) program aims to help rebalance Turkey’s branches of government by strengthening the capacity of Parliament. The approach of the program focuses on improving the skills and knowledge of Parliamentary Advisors (PAs), professional staff whose competencies include assisting in researching and drafting legislation, as well as providing constituent services. The program aims for the realization of the underutilized potential of the PAs and in return, helping Parliament maintain its role as a co-equal branch of government in the new presidential system.   

Within BALLAST, IRI Turkey has implemented a two-term Parliamentary Advisors Academy (PAA), that provides an extensive training curriculum to PAs and is supplemented by activities providing opportunities for putting the newly gained theoretical knowledge into practice and presenting their improvement to their respective MPs, both in policy development and constituent relations. The first term of the PAA successfully concluded, and the alumni of the program demonstrated a significant level of improvement in knowledge and skills, and they applied these to their daily duties.  

After their graduation from the program, the participating PAs prepared 16 policy proposals. The value of these proposals in the context of Turkey’s current complex political environment is remarkable. Due to rigid policy drafting procedures within political parties, the PAs had limited space for initiatives of this sort before IRI’s BALLAST program. In the first half of the PAA, 13 out of 16 policy drafts were put on the parliamentary agenda and one was voted into a law. The legislation focused on the Teachers’ Occupational Law and was passed in February 2022. The Minister of Education praised the law as a turning point for the teaching profession. Along with policy development, PAs showed increased competency in constituent relations, especially in content development and application of new methods in social media communication and press releases.  

Currently, IRI Turkey continues its efforts to support Parliament in developing its human resources with the second term of the PAA and will extend its reach with the cost extension of the BALLAST program for another grant term. The third and fourth terms of the program include an alumni network aspect that aims to secure the sustainability of the achievements of the program. The alumni of the BALLAST program have established an association that will serve programmatic goals, like improving the quality of human resources in Parliament, developing interparty relations, reducing political polarization, and enhancing data-driven policy development processes in the long run. IRI remains dedicated to working with parties to support the legislative branch’s vital role as a check on the executive branch in the presidential system of government. 

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