Joint Forum ‘Referendum in Turkey: Presidential Systems, the Economy and Foreign Policy’

4 April 2017,

King’s College

The Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS) and the King’s College London Diplomacy Society hosted a joint panel discussion event on 4 April at King’s College London entitled ‘Referendum in Turkey: Presidential Systems, the Economy and Foreign Policy’. Dr Gulcin Ozkan, Professor of Economics at the University of York, and Dr Katerina Dalacoura, Associate Professor in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), spoke at the event which was kindly chaired by the President of King’s College London Diplomacy Society, Peter Frostad.

Frostad opened the event by welcoming the participants and commenting on the timeliness of the discussion, noting that Turkey is an important geo-political player and that it is important to understand current dynamics.

Dr Ozkan then began her presentation by discussing the background to her paper which compares economic performance under two different government types, namely parliamentary democracies and presidential democracies. She emphasised that the findings should be relevant for constitutional engineers in all countries, adding that they are significant in light of Turkey’s upcoming referendum. She discussed the proposed changes to the Turkish constitution, noting the strong role accorded to the president.

Using two large data bases, Dr Ozkan sought to analyse the impact of presidential and parliamentary systems on countries’ economic performance. She found that presidential democracies are associated with worse economic performance than parliamentary democracies. Moreover, the relevant literature argues, Dr Ozkan explained, that the benefits of presidential systems do not outweigh their negative impacts.

Dr Ozkan used a range of factors, including inflation, growth rates and inequality to deepen her study. She also found that better institutions, seen in factors such as better rule of law and the quality of a given country’s democracy, reduced but did not reverse the negative impacts of a presidential system. Dr Ozkan’s paper can be found here.

Dr Dalacoura began her presentation by referring to her paper on the future of Turkey’s foreign policy, which she has produced as part of the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project. Dr Dalacoura explained that one argument of her paper was that Ahmet Davutoglu’s departure as Prime Minister marked the end of one phase of Turkish foreign policy and the start of another.

The previous phase under Davutoglu, Dr Dalacoura argued, was marked by a civilizational approach and an aim to make Turkey a great regional power. Davutoglu, Dr Dalacoura explained, believed distinct civilisations and that by being true to its civilizational characteristics, Turkey would be healthier. She noted however that Davutoglu’s framing of civilizations was not in terms of clash but rather he placed importance on dialogue between distinct civilisations. The new approach since his departure, she said, was far more ad hoc and expediency-based.

This new phase, Dr Dalacoura argued, came about in part due to crisis or siege mentality currently in Turkey. Dr Dalacoura explained that this crisis mentality is because Turkey faces at least three issues currently, which she defined as the Gulenist movement, Kurdish groups: the PKK and its sister group the PYD, and Islamic State. This crisis has meant Ankara is less concerned with ideology in foreign policy and consequently, she said, it will seek support whenever and from whomever.

Turkey’s foreign policy under the AKP has not broken significantly with previous governments, argued Dr Dalacoura, noting this was another of her paper’s arguments. She noted Turkey is still a member of NATO and still an EU membership candidate.


Speaker Biographies

Gulcin Ozkan is a Professor of Economics at the University of York. She holds a BSc in Economics from METU, Ankara, Turkey, an MSc in Economics from the University of Warwick, and a PhD from the University of York. She has taught at various institutions, including METU, Durham University and the University of York. She is also the Managing Editor of the Bulletin of Economic Research. She was the Academic Secretary to the Money, Macro and Finance Group – the leading research group in financial, macro and monetary economics in the UK – from 2010 to 2015.

She is an expert in the macroeconomics of emerging market countries and has written widely on currency and financial crises, central bank independence, exchange rate regimes, as well as various political economy issues. Her early publications on currency crises have been very widely cited and seen as the leading examples of the second generation currency crises literature. More recently, she published on how the global financial crisis was transmitted on to the emerging market economies. Her current work covers issues such as fiscal austerity, Brexit, and the economic sources of populism.

She has worked with a large number of PhD students over the years, eighteen of whom have so far completed their degrees and are currently working at various academic and policy making institutions including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central Bank of Turkey, the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, the Prime Minister’s Office of Korea, the Irish Government Department of Finance, Universiti Putra Malaysia, the University of Monterrey Mexico,  the University of Bath, Newcastle University, Queen Mary’s College and King’s College, London.

Her recent work on ‘Who does better for the economy? Presidents versus parliamentary democracies’, together with Richard McManus, has frequently featured in the Turkish press and has been widely used in the current debate on the proposed changes to the Turkish constitution to be voted on in the upcoming referendum on 16 April.

Dr Katerina Dalacoura is Associate Professor in International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 2015-16, she was British Academy Mid-Career Fellow. Her main areas of expertise are in: human rights, democracy and democracy promotion, in the Middle East; political Islam; and culture and religion in International Relations. Her work has recently focused particularly on Turkey. She is author of Islam, Liberalism and Human Rights: Implications for International Relations (I. B. Tauris, 2007), Islamist Terrorism and Democracy in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and of a number of chapters and articles in peer-reviewed journals.