Turkey takes key step in bid to expand Erdogan's presidential powers

ISTANBUL • Turkey was a key step closer yesterday to dramatically expanding the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after Parliament approved, on its first reading, a Bill that critics fear will lead to one-man rule.

Parliament backed the two final sections of the new 18-article 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 votes - a three-fifths majority - needed to adopt the constitutional change and send it to a referendum for final approval.

The planned Constitution will go to a second reading in the Ankara Parliament, expected to start on Wednesday, where its 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 that it was possible for the referendum to take place as soon as the start of April.

The debates have been fractious and last week saw some of the worst fighting in years in Parliament.

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 would be abolished for the first time. Instead, there would be a vice-president, or possibly several.

With Turkey already in a state of emergency following the failed coup on July 15 last year, the proposed changes would also widen the scope of conditions under 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 AKP, which has 317 seats in the 550-MP chamber, lacks the necessary three-fifths supermajority. But the changes have won the support of most MPs from a fourth party, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Opponents have accused Mr Erdogan of marching towards authoritarian rule and seeking total control in the aftermath of the failed coup, which was aimed at ousting him from power.

The authorities insist that the changes are needed to make government more efficient and would be little different from the presidential systems in the United States or France.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey takes key step in bid to expand Erdogan's presidential powers'. Print Edition | Subscribe