Erdogan rule could extend until 2029 under proposal
Nationalists may support move that could lead to Turkey becoming president-led republic
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: A controversial proposal to amend the constitution could allow him to stay in office until 2029. Photograph: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Reuters
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been given a major boost in his quest to transform Turkey into into a president-led republic, after nationalists in parliament signalled their support for a controversial proposal to amend the constitution and allow him to stay in office until 2029.
In a move that lays the groundwork for a possible historic national referendum in the spring, Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the nationalist bloc, said on Tuesday the proposed amendments to grant more powers to Turkey’s presidency were reasonable.
Mr Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) is likely to table a Bill for a referendum on the constitution in the coming months, and nationalist support would now allow the motion to pass. According to details of the amendments leaked to media outlets in recent days, under the proposal Erdogan would be able to continue in office until 2029.
Officials have also said the post of prime minister would be abolished, and the president would have two deputies as well as greater power to enact executive policies. The president would also likely retain links to his party. Currently the president is expected to disavow links to his political party once he assumes office.
The issue of changing the Turkish constitution came to the forefront in recent weeks after the nationalists signalled their willingness to consider the proposal, which opposition parties in parliament have vowed to reject. A draft Bill was sent to the nationalists last week for internal debate.
Government officials have long argued for transforming the country into a president-led republic in the vein of France and the US, saying the fractious nature of coalition governments in the past have held Turkey back.
Opponents of the change, however, see it as another measure to consolidate the power of Mr Erdogan, whom they argue is governing with greater authoritarianism in recent years. They point to a massive purge of civil servants and a crackdown on media outlets since a coup attempt in July that government critics say has gone far beyond the putschists and is an attempt to consolidate the ruling party’s power.
Another round of dismissals took place this week, with the government firing 15,000 civil servants, police and military officials accused of links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based preacher whose group, Hizmet, is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the July coup.
In recent weeks, the government has also cracked down on opposition media outlets and arrested Kurdish members of parliament, accusing them of fomenting propaganda on behalf of terror groups.
The purges have inflamed tensions with Turkey’s allies in the west, and on Tuesday the leaders of the European parliament’s two largest groups called for the EU to halt membership talks with Turkey because of them.
“Our message to Turkey is very clear: accession negotiations should be frozen immediately,” said Manfred Weber, the head of the largest faction in the European parliament, the centre-right European People’s party. He was echoed by Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Socialist group, the parliament’s second biggest, who said: “We want to freeze the accession talks.”
However Mr Erdogan appeared undaunted. “We know they have not been completely cleansed. They are still present in our military, in our police force, in our judiciary,” he told a policing conference in his palace. “We will not leave our country to them, we will not let them consume this nation. We will do whatever is necessary,” he said.
Mr Erdogan was set to run for a second term as president in 2019 when his current term expires, and govern until 2024 if he wins.
According to a draft of the Bill, seen by Reuters, he would assume the powers of the executive presidency immediately after the referendum, but the electoral clock would reset in 2019 and he would be allowed to run for two more five-year terms.
The alliance between the AKP and the nationalists, who have long shared an electoral base, is likely to dominate a new order led by the president, particularly amid rising tensions with Turkey’s Kurds. Violence has intensified in recent months in the Kurdish-dominated southeast after a peace process aimed at quelling a decades-long insurgency collapsed.