Turkey’s prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, a man with a strong sense of his own Attaturk-like importance to the shaping of his country’s history, has a looming problem. In 2015, term limits will mean forsaking the premiership he has held, and clearly enjoyed, since 2003. Unless, that is, the constitution is amended. And yesterday, surprising no-one, Erdogan presented parliament with a proposal to turn Turkey into a presidential system, beefing up the largely ceremonial role to that of an executive president. No prizes for guessing who might present himself as a candidate in 2014.
Erdogan’s governing party, the moderate Islamist Law and Justice party (AK), has a strong parliamentary majority and will have little difficulty pushing the proposals through. It is pitching the new constitution as a further step in the democratisation of Turkish politics that eventual EU accession requires. At his party congress in September, Erdogan, revelling in his success in boosting Turkey’s economy and in recasting himself as a regional leader, said he would forge a constitution that would boost political freedom and democracy to replace one drawn up after a military coup three decades ago.
The secular opposition, however, sees it as a naked attempt to acquire more powers. The prime minister is seen as increasingly intolerant of dissent – hundreds of activists, lawyers, politicians, officers and journalists are being held on charges of plotting against the government or supporting Kurdish militants – and, despite his protestations , they believe him determined to dilute the secular core of the country’s politics. The jury is still out.
But for Erdogan to succeed in his presidential ambitions will require the finessing of a political problem closer to home – incumbent Abdullah Gul, co-founder of the AK party, has expressed an interest in a second term. Polls suggest he would beat Erdogan, and in recent days exchanges between the two have become cooler. Watch this space.