Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has submitted to parliament a bill granting extended powers to the presidency and abolishing the prime ministry, among other major changes.
The 21-article constitutional change, if adopted, would take Turkey away from its current parliamentary system, and introduce an executive presidency, a move that worry critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Saturday’s proposed constitutional changes are expected to be discussed at the relevant parliamentary commission first, before the bill is brought to a parliamentary hearing and if passed there, put to a referendum. Government officials have pointed at the spring of 2017 for a possible referendum.
Erdogan became Turkey’s first president to be elected by popular vote in 2014, after serving three terms as prime minister.
He said numerous times that the popular vote had transformed his presidency compared to the past presidencies, which were seen as largely ceremonial.
According to Ahmet Iyimaya, the chairman of the parliament’s Constitutional Commission where the bill will be debated, Turkey already has a “partial executive presidency”, and therefore constitutional changes in this direction are necessary.
“Turkey has moved away from the parliamentary system towards a presidential system following the constitutional changes in 2007 and 2010. So this is necessary move,” Iyimaya, who is also an AK Party MP.
“The coalition governments in the Turkish parliamentary system took so much from this country, wasting so much time. They could not solve any of the issues this country faced,” he said.
Erdogan has repeatedly blamed coalition governments for what he calls Turkey’s political instability and economic downfall, which was the situation when his party came to power the first time in 2002.
“This will be the start of a new era,” he said of the bill, in an address in Istanbul on Saturday.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim recently called Turkey a “de facto” executive presidential system.
Saturday’s bill is backed by the far-right National Movement Party (MHP), but opposed by the centre-right main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP).
The AK Party and MHP were engaged in talks over the draft legislation for months before they could finalise it.
The MHP is the fourth largest party in parliament with the lowest number of seats, but the AK Party, which holds 317 MPs in the 550-seat assembly, needs the party’s support to get 330 MP votes to take constitutional changes to a referendum.
Opposition CHP MP Mustafa Sezgin Tanrikulu said that the constitutional changes aim to “pool power in one person at a dangerous level and pave the way for an authoritarian regime.
“This text gives one person the state’s whole executive power, some legislative powers through decrees and judicial powers – through appointments. This is a bill that will move Turkey away from the principles of democracy and the rule of law,” Tanrikulu, who is also a human rights lawyer, said.
He added that his party would challenge the bill in the legislative process, and if it is passed, will campaign against it before the referendum.
The proposed constitutional changes allow the president, who is currently constitutionally neutral, to be a member of a political party.
The bill also seeks to remove the prime ministry, and make the president the head of the executive, allowing him or her to appoint the government ministers and vice-presidents.
Under the draft legislation, the president would be able to appoint half of the 12 members of HSYK, Turkey’s highest judiciary board and would hold comprehensive powers to govern the country by decree.
If the changes are approved, Turkey would head to general and presidential elections together in November 2019, and proposed powers would be granted to the president elected.
The bill indicates that a person can be elected president for two five-year terms. Erdogan’s existing time as president will not be counted in this.