Turkey’s parliament has signed off on a contentious constitutional reform package that would concentrate even more powers in the office of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and potentially extend his mandate till 2029. The reforms will come into effect if approved in a national referendum.
How it came about
Constitutional reform was first floated by the ruling party after it won the 2011 general election, but that failed to gain traction immediately.
In 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the country’s first directly-elected president and the idea of bolstering his office resurfaced.
The ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, made the executive presidency central to its campaign promises in June 2015 general elections.
In November 2016, the nationalist party declared it would back moves to switch to a presidential system, saying Erdogan’s rule was a de-facto presidential system anyway.
The presidency would be catapulted from a largely ceremonial role to a nearly all-powerful position as head of government, head of state and head of the ruling party.
The office of the prime minister disappears, making way for a strong, executive president supported by vice-presidents. The president would have the power to appoint cabinet ministers without requiring a confidence vote from parliament, propose budgets and appoint more than half the members of the nation’s highest judicial body. The president would also have the power to dissolve the national assembly and impose states of emergency.
Parliament would be elected every five years, instead of every four, in general elections held in tandem with presidential elections.
The reform package also raises the number of lawmakers in parliament to 600 and lowers the age of political candidacy to 18.
Controversially, it also allows for a partisan president. To date, the symbolic head of state has been obliged to remain neutral and cut ties with his party.
It also introduces technical requirements that would make it harder for the assembly to remove the president from office or bring down his government with a vote of no confidence.
What makes Turkey’s proposed system different?
Turkey’s presidential system would allow Erdogan to be the head of state, the head of government and the head of the ruling party.
The model proposed by Turkey lacks the safety mechanisms of checks and balances present in other countries like the United States, observers say. The proposed changes transfer powers traditionally held by national assembly to the presidency rendering it a largely advisory body.
The proposal comes six months after a violent coup attempt on 15 July 2016 failed to unseat Erdogan. The government reacted by declaring a state of emergency and sweeping purges that left no government institution untouched.
More than 100,000 civil servants have been dismissed for their alleged ties to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based cleric Ankara blames for the revolt. He denies involvement.
In pictures: Turkey coup attempt
In pictures: Turkey coup attempt
Turkish President Erdogan attends the funeral service for victims of the thwarted coup in Istanbul at Fatih mosque on July 17, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey
Burak Kara/Getty Images
Soldiers involved in the coup attempt surrender on Bosphorus bridge with their hands raised in Istanbul on 16 July, 2016
A civilian beats a soldier after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, 16 July, 2016
Surrendered Turkish soldiers who were involved in the coup are beaten by a civilian
Soliders involved in the coup attempt surrender on Bosphorus bridge
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave flags as they capture a Turkish Army vehicle
People pose near a tank after troops involved in the coup surrendered on the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey, 16 July, 2016
Turkish soldiers block Istanbul's Bosphorus Brigde
A Turkish military stands guard near the Taksim Square in Istanbul
Turkish soldiers secure the area as supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan protest in Istanbul's Taksim square
Turkish soldiers detain police officers during a security shutdown of the Bosphorus Bridge
Turkish Army armoured personnel carriers in the main streets of Istanbul
Chaos reigned in Istanbul as tanks drove through the streets
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks to media in the resort town of Marmaris
Supporters of President Erdogan celebrate in Ankara following the suppression of the attempted coup
At the same time, Turkey is waging a multifaceted war against “terrorists,” a term encompassing Gulen supporters as well as the Islamic State group and Kurdish rebels at home, Syria and Iraq.
Turkey suffered dozens of stinging bombing attacks in 2016 in violence linked to the resumption of conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast and increased activity of foreign and local IS cells in Turkey.
Supporters of a powerful presidency argue that a strong president would strengthen Turkey as it confronts a broad array of internal and external security threats.
Critics say that the reforms concentrate too many powers in the hands a leader who has increasingly displayed authoritarian tendencies. They point to anti-terrorism campaigns that have decimated an opposition pro-Kurdish party, the closure and government takeover of dozens of media outlets, the detention of more than 100 journalists, and hundreds of defamation lawsuits brought against individuals who “insulted” the president.
They also say that holding a referendum when the country is under a state of emergency prevents the opposition from campaigning freely against the proposed changes.
Turkish authorities say a referendum on the reforms will be held between late March and mid-April. If more than 50 per cent of voters approve it, the reforms would come into effect.
Parliamentary and presidential elections would be held at the same time in 2019.
The constitutional changes would also reset the clock on term limits, giving Erdogan the possibility of continuing as president until 2029.