Turkey takes key step to expanding Erdogan powers

Updated 17 Jan 2017

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ISTANBUL: Turkey was a key step closer on Monday to dramatically expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after parliament approved, on first reading, a bill critics fear will lead to one-man rule.

The parliament backed the two final sections of the 18-article new constitution late on Sunday after a marathon week of debating that began on Jan 9 and included sessions that often lasted late into the night.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) mustered the necessary 330 or more votes — a three-fifths majority — needed to adopt the constitutional change and send it to a referendum for final approval.

The constitution plan will now go to a second reading in the Ankara parliament expected to start on Wednesday where the 18 articles will again be debated one by one.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus wrote on Twitter that with the changes “God willing, Turkey will reach a more efficient governance model.” He later told A-Haber television in an interview that it was possible the referendum would take place as soon as the start of April.

‘No good news’

The debates have been fractious and last week saw some of the worst fighting in years in the parliament with punches thrown, deputies bloodied and one lawmaker even claiming to have been bitten in the leg.

The proposed changes, which would create an executive presidency for the first time in modern Turkey, are controversial and far-reaching.

The president would have the power to appoint and fire ministers, while the post of prime minister will be abolished for the first time in Turkey’s history. Instead, there would be a vice president, or possibly several.

With Turkey already under a state of emergency for almost six months following the July 15 failed coup, the proposed changes would also widen the scope of conditions in which the president can declare an emergency.

Parliamentary elections and presidential ballots would be held simultaneously, with the draft giving Nov 3, 2019 as the poll date.

The changes are opposed by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The third largest party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is boycotting the vote.

“The constitutional changes pressed by the ruling party are not good news for Turkey,” said Faruk Logoglu, former deputy leader of the CHP.

He claimed the plan would prove problematic on a wide range of issues from democracy to judicial independence.

In a symbolic gesture, CHP MPs piled up copies of the current constitution by the voting boxes in parliament as they cast their ballots. The AKP, which has 317 seats in the 550-MP chamber, lacks the necessary three-fifths super majority. But the changes have won the support of most MPs from the fourth party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The MHP’s enigmatic leader Devlet Bahceli, who took up the reins of the party in 1997, has emerged as the main ally of the AKP in the constitutional change.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2017