Erdogan Inching Forward to Taking Executive Power in Turkey

Corrected
  • Amendment envisons government without prime minister role
  • Parliament to vote on sending measure to a referendum

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inched closer to concentrating power in his office as the governing party officially proposed an executive presidency to parliament.

The bill would amend the constitution to change Turkey’s political framework from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. It was submitted on Saturday after the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached agreement on its outlines with the nationalist opposition party MHP, whose support it needs to authorize a public referendum on the measures.

Erdogan has faced criticism over his increasingly authoritarian style and sway over the AKP despite his official non-partisan role. Under the amendment, he will be able to restore his ties to the ruling party, which he had co-founded 15 years ago. There will be no prime minister if the amendments are approved.

The bill, which may come up for a vote early next year, needs to get at least 330 votes in the 550-seat parliament to go to a referendum. The plebiscite must take place within 60 days of the vote in the parliament.

The 62-year-old Erdogan says July’s failed takeover by a group within the military is proof that the nation would be more stable if ruled from the presidential palace. There is “growing support” among the people for a system change, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on his plane to Moscow earlier this week, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Yildirim’s office will cease to exist under the new system.

2019 Elections

If the draft legislation is approved, there will be an election for both lawmakers and the head of state on Nov. 3, 2019, and there would be a two-term limit for the president, according to a copy of the proposal seen by Bloomberg. A revote could be held if three fifths of parliament support that. If this happens during the president’s second term he could run for office one more time. The president’s powers in announcing emergency rule and appointing high-level bureaucrats would also be expanded under the proposal.

After governing as prime minister for more than 11 years, Erdogan ran for president in 2014 with the goal of broadening the authorities of that office. Even without changes to the charter, he has claimed greater powers, chairing sessions of the policy-making cabinet and forcing out the previous prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, after he tried to assert his authority as head of the executive branch.

“It seems likely that this will become a one-man state with no balance of power,” Jenny White, a professor at Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, said in an e-mail on Dec. 2. “President Erdogan as supreme leader might well bring stability at the expense of democracy and human rights.”

The number of seats in the parliament would rise to 600 from 550 and the age at which lawmakers can be elected will drop to 18 from 25. The president will be able to issue executive decrees and appoint both of his own deputies and ministers. Two-thirds of the parliament would need to vote in favor for the president to face charges at Turkey’s highest court.

Erdogan has used emergency powers declared after the July 15 coup attempt to fire or suspend tens of thousands of civil servants and shut down more than a dozen media outlets on national security grounds. Turkey’s Western allies accused him of using autocratic methods to squelch dissent while the European Parliament recommended suspending the nation’s membership talks with the EU after Erdogan rallied support to reinstate the death penalty for people convicted of terrorism.

Read more: EU Refugee Deal Under Strain as Erdogan Threatens to Open Gates

Two bombings in Istanbul hours after the presidency proposal was submitted to parliament killed 38 people, prompting some members of the ruling party to say the attacks were carried out by opponents of the plan.

An executive presidency under Erdogan would formalize “the erosion of separation of powers that we have seen in the last couple of years,” Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert at the Wilson Center, a Washington policy group, said in an e-mail on Dec. 2.

“In Erdogan’s case, the institutional powers he will formally get are all the more enhanced because of his charismatic personality and hold over both his party and a very large constituency,” Barkey said.

(An earlier version of this story was corrected to remove reference to a referendum in the ruling party bill.)

(Updates with details on Istanbul bombings in 11th paragraph.)
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