Presidential Rule in Turkey Could Be Fast Tracked, Official Says

  • Executive powers for Erdogan possible with few charter changes
  • Ruling AK Party whip Elitas comments on change in interview

Turkey could move to an executive presidency with the swift amendment of only about a dozen articles of the constitution, according to a senior member of the ruling party.

AK Party whip Mustafa Elitas said that the shift from a parliamentary system, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought, wouldn’t necessarily require a full reworking of the national charter, something opposition parties have in the past rejected.

“There is a need to speedily change the current system to eliminate uncertainties regarding the use of executive power,” Elitas said in an interview in Ankara on Thursday. “If political parties oppose replacing the constitution, then a 10 to 15 article constitutional amendment could be put on the agenda as a fast formula to introduce the presidential system.”

Erdogan has pointed to July’s failed coup by a section of Turkey’s military as another reason why the nation would be more stable if it was ruled from the presidential palace. Erdogan, who served as prime minister for more than a decade until 2014, has already transformed the typically ceremonial role of president to a new center of power, chairing cabinet meetings and dominating the country’s foreign policy.

Referendum Plan

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim on Wednesday said the AKP would submit its draft on constitutional change to parliament “soon.” Giving a boost to its plans, the leader of the opposition nationalist MHP, Devlet Bahceli, said his party wouldn’t object to presidential rule if the nation wanted it.

The AKP, which says it will seek a referendum on the presidential system even if it wins wide support in parliament, has 317 seats in the 550-member assembly but one of those is the speaker, who can’t vote. 

Elitas said parliament could consider ways of speeding up the changes, including lowering the minimum number of votes needed to put the issue to a referendum to 300 from 330. Alternatively, the process could be accelerated by limiting the duration of speeches and the number of lawmaker interventions during debate. Laws on political parties and elections can be changed later, Elitas said.

“We’re ready for anything as long the system change can be made as quick as possible,” said Elitas.

If the government can rally the support in parliament for either a comprehensive constitutional overhaul for Elitas’s slimmed down option, it would have to quickly introduce a temporary clause to the existing charter immediately applying the changes to Erdogan, the whip said in the interview. That way, the 2019 presidential election would be able to go ahead as scheduled, he said.

“We think there is need for a new constitution to strengthen the political institutions and ensure stability” of the country, Bulent Turan, another AKP parliamentary whip, said by phone on Thursday. The rise in support for Erdogan following the coup “should be seen as an opportunity to make this change.”

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