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Home Technology Turkey’s Parliament Starts Debate on Expansion of President’s Powers

Turkey’s Parliament Starts Debate on Expansion of President’s Powers

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The Turkish Parliament began debating legislation on Monday that would effectively rewrite the Constitution, vastly expanding the powers of Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and possibly allowing him to remain in power until 2029.

Mr. Erdogan, the dominant figure in Turkish politics for 14 years, was prime minister from 2003 until 2014. That year, unable to seek another term in that office, he ran for president, vowing to strengthen the powers of what had largely been a ceremonial job. He won easily.

The most dominant figure in Turkish politics since Ataturk, who created a modern secular republic out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, Mr. Erdogan has largely been able to exert his will. Since a failed coup attempt in July, he has used emergency powers to crack down on his opponents, suspending or dismissing tens of thousands of civil servants, police officers, academics and others. At least 260 people died in the coup attempt.

Mr. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish initials A.K.P., and the Nationalist Party, which is nominally in opposition but supports the constitutional proposal, are believed to have more than enough votes — at least 330 of 550 in the unicameral legislature — to pass the changes. The package would then be submitted to a national referendum in the spring. The constitution has not been amended since 2010.

Mr. Erdogan has frequently argued that Turkey needs a presidential system, like in the United States or France, to avoid one of weak coalition governments and to fend off what he describes as existential threats to the nation.

If passed, the legislation would go into effect in 2019 and allow Mr. Erdogan to pass legislation by decree and to serve two more five-year terms as president.

“This will be the start of a new era,” Mr. Erdogan said at a rally last month after the bill was submitted to Parliament.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said recently that Turkey already had a de facto presidential system. He supports the legislation, although it would render his job largely powerless.

Mr. Erdogan’s critics fear that the proposed changes would effectively turn Turkey into an authoritarian state and further erode its record on human rights and freedoms. It would almost certainly complicate the country’s longstanding bid to join the European Union, for which democratic safeguards are a condition of membership.

The largest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, known by its Turkish initials C.H.P., opposes the proposed amendments. It has warned that they would result in the end of democracy in Turkey and its replacement with “a one-man dictatorship.”

As Parliament started debating the measures in the capital, Ankara, on Monday, police officers used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protesters outside.

“Democracy, human rights, the love of the flag and the love for the land do not have leftist or rightists,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said in a speech last week. “The Constitution has to be the common book of all of us. All citizens should be able to claim the constitution as their own when they pick up its pamphlet.”

In remarks before Parliament, he said, “They are trying to turn the democratic parliamentary regime into a totalitarian regime.”

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