Turkey’s Erdogan could govern until 2029 with expanded powers

Sunday 20/11/2016
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, last September. (AFP)

Ankara - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could govern Turkey until 2029 with expanded executive powers under proposals the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) hopes will go to a ref­erendum next spring, officials who have seen the latest draft said.

Erdogan and his supporters argue Turkey needs the strong leadership of an executive presidency, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid the fragile coalition governments that hampered its de­velopment in the past.

Opponents see the proposed change as a vehicle for Erdogan’s ambition and fear it will bring in­creasing authoritarianism to a country under fire from Western al­lies over its deteriorating record on rights and freedoms, especially after widespread purges in the wake of a failed military coup in July.

The AKP, founded by Erdogan in 2001, aims to have a referendum on the issue in spring 2017 and is seek­ing support from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) opposition to win parliamentary approval for such a vote.

Under the latest draft, Erdogan could assume the position of “act­ing” executive president immedi­ately after the referendum if the changes are approved. A presiden­tial election would then be held, as scheduled, when his term expires in 2019.

Under the constitution’s current two-term limit and provided he wins the 2019 election, Erdogan would be able to rule until 2024 only. How­ever, under the proposed executive presidency, the clock would reset, allowing him another two terms.

“We have come to a conclusion in our work on constitutional changes and will bring it to the parliament in the coming days,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told a con­ference of AKP provincial heads in Ankara.

“We will continue to seek a base for consensus with the other parties. After that, the decision lies with the people.”

Two senior officials who have seen the draft said the president would be eligible to serve a maximum of two five-year terms and would be able to issue presidential decrees on most executive matters without the need to consult parliament.

The president would have up to two deputies and would directly appoint the heads of the military and intelligence agencies, univer­sity rectors, senior bureaucrats, and some top judicial bodies, expanding the powers of the role, the officials said.

Such changes would likely alarm the European Union, which has been critical of the post-coup at­tempt crackdown.

Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union, has dismissed or detained more than 110,000 civil servants, members of the security forces and other officials in a crack­down it says is justified by the grav­ity of the threat from the July 15th putsch.

Erdogan has ridden a wave of na­tionalist support since the abortive coup, vowing to crack down on Tur­key’s enemies at home and abroad, and support from the MHP will be vital for realising his ambition of a stronger presidency.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli has indicated his party could support the reforms and said that party law­yers were assessing the AKP’s latest draft.

Any constitutional change needs the support of at least 367 deputies in the 550-seat assembly to pass di­rectly and of 330 to go to a referen­dum. The AKP has 317 seats and the MHP 39.

Other opposition parties oppose a stronger presidency.

Erdogan, speaking at a news con­ference before leaving for an official visit to Pakistan, said the executive president should not have to cut ties to his political party.

Under the current constitution, the head of state is supposed to be impartial and renounce party ties as part of a system of checks and bal­ances. Erdogan’s comments suggest he could seek to resume leadership of the AKP, by far Turkey’s largest political movement, if elected in 2019.