Turkish President Erdoğan Rule Could Extend Until 2029 Under Proposal

Photo end story by Hülya Karahan

Turkey’s parliament has begun debating a controversial new draft constitution aimed at expanding the powers of the presidency under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The new constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum by the spring, would replace the basic law drawn up in 1982 after Turkey’s military coup.

The initial vote on the issue at parliament was to decide on whether to proceed with debating 18 articles of the constitutional amendment package, with parliament to begin discussing articles one by one from Jan. 10.

After lengthy and tense discussions inside and outside parliament, some 338 lawmakers voted in favor while 134 voted against. Two lawmakers abstained and five cast blank votes in a secret ballot, with 480 lawmakers in the 550-seat parliament present for the voting.

Critics have claimed the move is part of a power grab by Erdoğan. Turkey’s prime minister from 2003 to 2014, and president ever since.

But Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government.

The main opposition party fears that if approved, the reforms would concentrate too much power in Erdoğan’s hands, turn the country into a de facto dictatorship and move Turkey away from democracy and its anchor in the West.

“They are trying to turn the democratic parliamentary regime into a totalitarian regime,” said main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu.

The changes would scrap the office of prime minister and make the president the head of the executive branch, as well as allow him to appoint the government, dissolve Parliament, propose budgets and declare states of emergency. They would also allow Erdoğan to serve another two terms, ending in 2029.

 Currently, the prime minister leads the executive branch, while the president is mainly a figurehead with limited powers.

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has expressed support for the constitutional changes. He said Monday the new system would end a possible fwar between his office and that of the president.

“Two captains will sink the ship. There has to be a single captain,” Yıldırım said.

Debate on the set of amendments is expected to last two weeks. The reforms must clear two rounds of balloting in parliament, known as the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, gaining at least 330 of the 550 votes.

If the package is approved by lawmakers, the government will submit it to a voter referendum for final approval possibly in the spring.