Choosing a president by a two thirds majority of Parliament seemed so simple to republicans determined to change Australia’s Constitution in the nineties, but experience in the real world shows this can be fraught with danger. Just this year, Turkey came close to insurrection and a military coup over this process. Compare that to the smooth and inexpensive appointment of Governor-General under our Constitution, and wonder why anyone would want to change that.
Unlike those who drafted 1999 Australian republican model, the Turks had actually thought about the possibility of not being able to get a two thirds vote. So the Turkish constitution says that after two unsuccessful rounds which show a two thirds majority cannot be obtained, a third vote will be decided by a simple majority. The term of the current Turkish president was to expire on 16 May 2007, but the opposition did not like the government’s candidate who had the number to win the third round.
So what did they do?
They simply boycotted the first round election, and when the government tried to move to the second and third rounds, they went to court. The court said the first round was invalid because two thirds of the MP’s were not present.
The opposition says the government candidate, Abdullah Gül, wants to change the secular nature of the Turkish state established by Kemal Atatürk They organised enormous demonstrations – one well over a million people -against the presidential candidate. Then on 27 April 2007, the Turkish Armed Forces issued a statement claiming to be the defenders of secularism. They said that anyone opposed to “Great Leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's [pictured] understanding” of secularism were “enemies of the Republic. “ In an open threat of a military coup, they affirmed “their sound determination to carry out their duties…to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic. “
The EU warned the Turkish military not to intervene, and the US in a lukewarm way seemed to support this view. A first round vote was again attempted in early May, but this was thwarted by the Opposition again not turning up. The candidate ,Abdullah Gül, then withdrew . But when Parliament met on 9 May, 2007, no alternative nomination was forthcoming. The draftsmen did consider this possibility. So the next day, an early general election was called, but not until 22 July, 2007. The people appear to have returned the government.
Perhaps the new Parliament will now be able to elect the President, and the crisis will be over. Imagine the cost of this, and the effect on confidence and on the economy. There is a lesson here for Australia.