New Constitution To Give Erdogan All-Powerful Presidency

Photo: Reuters

Turkey’s already powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be able to appoint heads of military, intelligence agencies, heads of top judicial bodies, leading bureaucrats, rectors of all universities according to a new draft bill on presidential system.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is setting the stage for sweeping changes to Turkey’s political system with the backing of nationalist opposition party in Parliament. If the current draft bill under consideration may succeed, Erdogan would be able to govern the country until 2029, a prospect that would give him historic change to leave his profound mark in Turkey’s political history.

The AKP, which has been governing the country for 14 years, is planning to hold a referendum next spring. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) appeared willing to endorse AK Party’s push to introduce an executive presidency with expanded powers.

Erdogan’s bid toward an all-powerful presidency was longstanding but suddenly became within his reach after a putsch to topple him dramatically failed on July 15. Then his popularity and public backing has skyrocketed to all-time highs, providing a historic momentum to Erdogan who seems already eager to tap on the positive public mood.

Given the escalation of fighting between the Turkish state and Kurdish insurgents, Turkey’s ongoing military push in Syria, the dispute with Iraq over Turkish forces near Mosul, the Islamic State threat both at home and in Syria, and other forms of instability seemingly convince the people that the country indeed needs a strong leadership. National media loyal to the president and President Erdogan himself play into this sentimentality by trying to make a compelling case for the goods and benefits that an executive presidency may bring.

With the recent draft, a report by Reuters notes that Erdogan could soon assume the title of executive president right after a referendum if people give their blessing to the proposed changes. Once his term expires in 2019, then a presidential election would be held. There the proposed draft offers a reset for Erdogan who normally could govern only until 2024 with two terms under the current laws. In 2019, there will be a reset and if Erdogan succeeds to be elected for two next presidential elections, he could indeed run the country until 2029.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in Ankara at a party meeting that the AK Party plans to bring the draft to Parliament. Yildirim told his party fellows and provincial branch heads that his government will seek accord with other parties in Parliament to enact constitutional change.

While the government sees strong presidency as an indispensable element and needed scheme to heel the country’s many woes, critics are equally disturbed by the framework which they argue will end rule of law and separation of powers. What concerns opponents most that the president will be able issue presidential decrees on key matters without even consulting Parliament. Under this type of presidency, parliament will be rendered extremely powerless and will lose most of power it holds today.

With expanding powers, the president will have the final say over most executive matters, and will be able to appoint heads of military, intelligence agencies, rectors, prominent public officials in various departments of state bureaucracy, top judicial bodies, in measures that will remove essential elements of checks and balances in the system. Core pillars of separation of powers that ensure rule of law and independent judicial system will be consigned to dustbin of history.

To finalize its push, the government desperately needs support of MHP for amendment to constitution. The two parties forged a lasting alliance since abortive July 15 coup, and government secured backing of the MHP in its crackdown on Kurdish politicians, and its intensification of military efforts to defeat PKK. For a constitutional change, the government needs support of 367 lawmakers in 550-seat Parliament. This is the needed number for passing a constitutional amendment directly, while 330 deputies’ support is enough to bring the draft to a referendum. The ruling AK Party has currently 317 seats, while MHP has 39.

Therefore, the AK Party, facing a stiff objection to its proposal from other opposition parties, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), is hammering out its plans and strategy over a referendum next spring.

Erdogan’s presidential bid is bound to steer Turkey further away from EU. But neither President Erdogan nor his government seems to be concerned with consequences of constitutional change. Turkey displayed exasperation with EU over stalled negotiation process and threatens to rip apart refugee deal if Brussels does not act to lift visa requirements for the Turkish citizens as part of a deal sealed in March this year.

The visa deal teeters on edge of collapse amid trading barbs and mutual accusations between sides. Ankara’s crackdown on critics in the wake of failed July coup aroused a strong opposition in Brussels as a number of EU countries propose entirely terminating accession talks with Turkey.

More than 110,000 public officials were purged, 37,000 jailed, while more than 170 media outlets have been shut down in the largest crackdown of country’s history. More than a dozen of pro-Kurdish HDP deputies, including its co-chairmen, have been arrested on terrorism charges.

This sparked fresh criticism in Brussels where skeptical voices about Turkey’s membership are louder today. But Germany urges restraint and says a move to cut ties would rid EU off any leverage over Turkey, which Berlin says still is a key partner in the fight against extremist terrorism in the Middle East and major collaborator to curb migration from Syria to Europe through Turkey.