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Turkish lawmakers clear draft to expand Erdogan's power

Adem Altan, AFP | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Ankara on December 14, 2016

A Turkish parliamentary commission on Friday cleared a set of draft constitutional amendments that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Erdogan will be able to appoint and dismiss government ministers, take back the leadership of the ruling party and declare states of emergency under plans approved by the commission. The amendments would also allow him to propose budgets and extend his mandate to 2029.

Turkish lawmakers approved the reforms at the end of a 17-hour session that lasted into the early hours of Friday, opening the way for deliberations and a vote in the full assembly in January

“It is expected that the government won’t get enough votes to pass it as a constitutional amendment, but it will get enough votes to put it to the people in a referendum,” said FRANCE 24’s Ankara correspondent Jasper Mortimer, who added that a popular vote could come as early as April.

The reforms, if passed, would turn the largely ceremonial presidency into one where the president enjoys full executive powers. Erdogan has long advocated a presidential system, arguing it would give the head of state flexibility to make Turkey one of the top 10 powers in the world by 2023, when the Turkish Republic marks its centenary.

“Polling institutes are saying the referendum could go either way. It’s very exciting in that sense,” Mortimer noted. “What we can be sure of is that voters will not make up their minds on the minutiae of the constitutional changes, but on what they think of President Erdogan.”

‘Tyrannical state’

Critics say the proposed reforms will allow Erdogan to rule with virtually no checks and balances.

The draft amendments were approved following some 10 days of tense debate that at times resulted in altercations between the ruling party and main opposition party members on the committee.

"This is the greatest democratic move in the history of the (Turkish) republic," said Resat Petek, a legislator from the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, following the committee's vote.

But opposition lawmakers warned the draft amendments would undermine democracy in the country. "It is a constitution that will destroy the century-old gains of the democratic republic," said Bulent Tezcan, an MP with the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

"It is a constitution that will create a tyrannical state," Tezcan added.

Enjoys popularity

The amendments were proposed by the AKP with the newly won support of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. The nationalist party was expected to back the amendments in the general assembly as well.

Erdogan enjoys popularity and has rallied support following a failed military coup blamed on a movement led by US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Other proposed amendments would increase the number of seats in the 550-member parliament to 600, reduce the minimum age of legislators from 25 to 18 and set parliamentary and presidential elections on the same day.

The changes come at a tumultuous time for Turkey, which has been rocked by a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, and the failed coup attempt.

The botched July 15 coup set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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