Turkey slides towards authoritarian rule as commission approves plan to increase powers for President Erdogan

Proposed constitutional changes will be debated in parliament and possibly go to a referendum before becoming law

Lizzie Dearden
Friday 30 December 2016 10:27 GMT
The meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to focus on the international effort to defeat Isis
The meeting with Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to focus on the international effort to defeat Isis (Getty)

A parliamentary commission has approved constitutional reforms that would substantially increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

International observers have raised alarm over the prospect of executive powers for Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian leader after tens of thousands of arrests following an attempted coup in July.

The constitutional changes would give the President executive power over Turkish law, allowing him to form a government independently of parliament and appoint his own aides, ministers and deputies, while abolishing the post of Prime Minister.

President Erdogan has capitalised on an attempted coup to oust him in July to accelerate his ambitions for an executive presidency
President Erdogan has capitalised on an attempted coup to oust him in July to accelerate his ambitions for an executive presidency (Getty)

The draft bill also permits the President to maintain ties with a political party, which is banned under the current constitution to maintain the principle of impartiality, while limiting leaders to two terms in office.

The commission approved the draft changes in a marathon 17-hour session that finished on Friday morning, sending 18 new articles for the constitution to a parliamentary vote.

Its decision followed 10 days of tense debate between the committee’s ruling party and main opposition members.

Parliamentary debate on the bill is due to begin in January, with a referendum to follow in spring if it garners the support of at least 330 deputies in the 550-seat assembly.

If more than two thirds of members approve, the changes will be directly passed into law, but the prospect is considered unlikely as Mr Erdogan’s party holds only 317 seats.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants the backing of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) opposition to see the plan through parliament.

Turkey's President Erdogan defends government action

Mr Erdogan has rebuffed criticism of widespread purges in the Turkish military, civil service, government, education and media, while attacking reports on the alleged torture and abuse of detainees.

His administration has blamed the coup attempt on the Hizmet movement headed by exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen and claimed those arrested have links to the group, but it has denied involvement and critics accuse Mr Erdogan of attempts to stamp out all opposition.

Opponents fear the proposed reforms would allow the Turkish president, who already exercises unprecedented influence on his party and government, to move further towards authoritarian rule.

Mr Erdogan, 62, came to power in 2002 and spent 11 years as prime minister before becoming the country’s first directly-elected president in August 2014.

He has since turned the supposedly ceremonial role into a powerful platform by drawing on his unrivalled popularity and has long been harbouring ambitions to move Turkey from a parliamentary to presidential system, and regain some of the powers he relinquished.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are among the groups to have raised concern over Mr Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian style, while the UN cautioned that crackdowns following the coup may violate international law.

Wide ranging restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly and association could continue indefinitely under Turkey’s state of emergency, which the president would have executive power to extend under the new law.

“Turkey’s trajectory is toward authoritarianism and the dismantling of all checks on the power of its leaders,” warned Emma Sinclair-Webb, a senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The proposed law would also lower the minimum age of parliamentary candidates from 25 to 18 and increase the number of MPs from 550 to 600 to reflect Turkey’s growing population.

General elections would be held every five years, instead of the current four, with the next round held in November 2019.

A poll conducted by the MAK consultancy found 55 per cent of Turks supported the constitutional changes and would vote “yes” in the possible referendum.

Another 29 per cent said they would vote against the proposals and 16 per cent abstained from giving their view, Daily Sabah reported.

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