Bill to boost Erdogan's power heads to Turkey parliament

AFP , Thursday 1 Dec 2016

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a parliamentary symposium in Istanbul, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016 (Photo: AP)

A bill expanding Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power will be submitted to parliament next week, just months after he survived a coup attempt that led to a massive crackdown on his opponents.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Erdogan, proposes to change Turkey's parliamentary system to create an executive-style presidency, like that of the United States or France.

"We will submit our proposal for constitutional reform to the Turkish national assembly next week," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told journalists in Ankara on Thursday, without giving a precise date.

Turkey is still reeling from the failed July coup blamed on US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his alleged supporters from all state institutions.

Gulen denies the accusations and the United States has so far rejected Turkish calls for his extradition.

Yildirim said the constitutional changes would be put to the people in a referendum in the early summer if "everything goes well" and it is approved by parliament.

Erdogan became Muslim-majority Turkey's first directly elected president in August 2014, having been prime minister since 2003.

During his time as president, he has dramatically transformed what was usually a more ceremonial post, concentrating powers in what opponents have said is a violation of the existing constitution.

Although Erdogan rallied for the Islamist-leaning AKP during the last elections in November 2015, the constitution does not allow the president to be tied to a party.

But Yildirim suggested the new constitution -- aimed at replacing the basic law drawn up by the then junta after the 1980 coup -- would allow Erdogan to maintain party links.

Officials often say the bill would legalise what has become a de facto situation while Yildirim said it would provide for "Turkey's stability".

But critics fear that an even more powerful president will crack down harder on the opposition and critical media outlets.

Since the attempted putsch during which a rogue military faction tried to oust Erdogan, over 100,000 people have been detained, dismissed or suspended from the judiciary, military, police, media and the education sector.

The Turkish currency headed lower after Yildirim's comments, heading towards 3.5 lira to the US dollar, raising concerns that the constitutional changes will create more instability for the already fragile economy.

The changes to the constitution require 330 votes, or two thirds of the 550-seat assembly, to be put to a public vote.

While a so-called super-majority of 367 votes is needed to approve the changes without public consultation, the government has repeatedly said it would hold a referendum even if it has the required support in parliament.

The AKP currently commands 317 seats in the house, including the speaker Ismail Kahraman.

To make up its shortfall, it has been chasing the support of the fourth-largest Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which has 40 MPs.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) have repeatedly said they would oppose the reforms but MHP support would be enough.

Some commentators suggest that the AKP's determination to go to a referendum reflected its confidence that the bill would win public support.

Yildirim said he was hoping for a "good decision" from the Turkish people.

He was speaking at a press conference with MHP leader Devlet Bahceli after the two men met to discuss the changes.

Bahceli told reporters their 90-minute meeting had gone "positively", suggesting the MHP could give enough votes for the bill to pass.

"This proposal will surely be a text that has been agreed with or negotiated and then come to be agreed on with the MHP," Yildirim added.

Bahceli's influence is a significant change for the once-embattled leader who only a few months ago was facing the threat of being ousted as MHP leader, a post he has held since 1997.

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