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Erdogan seeks new charter to increase his powers

05 november 2015, 11:05
0
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. ©AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. ©AFP

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Wednesday for a new constitution that would give him greater powers, heightening opposition fears over authoritarian rule, AFP reports.

Erdogan also vowed there would be no let-up in the military campaign against Kurdish rebels, one of the key security challenges for his new administration after a wave of tit-for-tat violence left a truce in tatters.

The strongman of Turkish politics for more than a decade, Erdogan has long been pushing for a new constitution to transform his post into a powerful US-style executive presidency.

"Solving the issue of a new constitution was one of the most important messages of November 1," he said in his first major policy speech since his Justice and Development Party's (AKP) triumph at the ballot box on Sunday.

His spokesman said Turkey was considering holding a referendum on the proposed reform if it failed to win the support of enough lawmakers in the new parliament.

In a surprise result on Sunday, the AKP won 317 seats in the 550-member parliament -- enough to return it to single-party rule but still short of the 330 needed to change the constitution.

"This is an issue that can be finalised after consulting with the people... If the mechanism to do this is a referendum, then one will be held," Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters.

Such a system would enshrine the head of state as chief of the executive, raising concerns at home and abroad about the risk of having so much power in the hands of one man.

Erdogan's opponents already accuse him of being an autocratic and divisive leader who brooks no dissent and wants to force Islamic values on the traditionally secular society.

Turkey's Western allies have often voiced alarm over the state of democracy and free speech in the Muslim-majority country, and EU membership talks have faltered over the issue.

The ballots had barely been counted from Sunday's vote before the authorities moved against his rivals, charging two opposition journalists with plotting a coup over a critical magazine cover and rounding up dozens of people accused of aiding Erdogan's archfoe, a powerful US-based cleric.  

  'The shirt is too tight' 

Kalin insisted the planned changes were not just for the benefit of Erdogan, who became premier in 2003 and then Turkey's first directly elected president in 2014.

"He is already a strong leader constitutionally and has already passed into history. He has no personal expectations," he said. 

"The debates on presidential system are not out of concern over his future. It is being considered as a useful model for Turkey."

Erdogan, 61, argues that an executive presidency would be little different from the systems in democracies such as France and Brazil.

"It is obvious that the current system does not meet Turkey’s needs. This shirt is too tight for this country," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in his victory speech Sunday.

The country of 78 million people is still ruled under a 1980 charter drawn up by the military after a coup and many say a change is long overdue.

"But in the absence of institutions that would ensure the checks and balances critical for running a presidential system, it makes sense to worry that Turkeymay move in the direction of authoritarianism," said Kemal Kirisci of theBrookings Institution.

  'No break' in PKK fight 

Erdogan also vowed his government would continue to take on Kurdish rebels after a wave of attacks in July put an end to a fragile peace process.

"The operations against the terrorist organisation inside and outside the country are continuing in a determined fashion," he said. 

"There will be no break. We will keep on," said Erdogan, who as premier launched secret talks in 2012 with Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the outlawedKurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). 

His remarks came as two more Turkish soldiers were killed in fighting with Kurdish rebels near the Iraqi border.  

In a statement after a security meeting chaired by Davutoglu, the prime minister's office also said that the Turkish military would continue the operations against the PKK "without slowing down, including in winter months."

Turkish warplanes had on Monday and Tuesday bombed PKK targets in the restive Kurdish-majority southeast as well as in northern Iraq.

Four militants were also killed in clashes in the southeast earlier this week.

"We will keep on fighting until the terrorist organisation buries their weapons under concrete and its members surrender and leave the country," Erdogan said. 

He said the PKK had killed 248 police, soldiers and civilians since violence erupted again in July.


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