Turkey’s President Erdogan could rule until 2029 under plan to change constitution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 2:53pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 8:31pm

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been given a major boost in his quest to transform Turkey into a president-led republic, after nationalists in parliament signalled their support for a controversial proposal to amend the constitution in a way that could 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 Bahçeli, the leader of the nationalist bloc, said on Tuesday the proposed amendments to grant more powers to Turkey’s presidency were reasonable.

President 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 Erdogan, who they argue has governed with greater authoritarianism in recent years. They point to a massive purge of civil servants and a crackdown on media outlets following a coup attempt in July. Critics of the government say these have gone far beyond the putschists and are 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 Gülen, a US-based preacher whose group, Hizmet, is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated the coup.

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.