Turkey’s parliament on Monday began debating a controversial new draft constitution aimed at expanding the powers of the presidency under Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The new constitution, which is expected to be put to a referendum by the spring, would replace the basic law drawn up after Turkey’s 1980 military coup.
It seeks to establish for the first time a presidential system for ruling the modern republic created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Critics have claimed the move is part of a power grab by Erdogan — Turkey’s premier from 2003-2014 and then president — for one-man rule in the wake of a failed coup in July.
But Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) say the presidential system would bring Turkey into line with countries such as France and the United States and is needed for efficient government.
The debates on the 18-article new constitution began after the draft was agreed by a parliamentary commission. The two readings are expected to last 13-15 days.
There were protests from some quarters as parliament began its deliberations. Selahattin Demirtas, the jailed co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), slammed the debates from behind bars, the private Dogan news agency reported.
He said the arrest of 11 members of the party for alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) had stripped them of their chance to challenge the draft constitution and “makes the debate and the vote controversial from the very start”.
A rally outside the parliament building in Ankara against the change descended into violence after riot police used tear gas and pepper spray on the demonstrators. Police also fired water cannons to disperse protesters, pushing back with their shields those who returned to the fray.
‘Checks on power’
“We don’t want a system where only one man leads,” demonstrator Abdullah Sundal told AFPTV. “We will do everything in our power” to stop the draft becoming law, he said.
The AKP needs more than 330 votes — a three fifths majority — for the bill to be submitted to a referendum for voters’ approval.
However, the November 2015 election left the AKP short of a super majority in parliament and it is relying on the support of the opposition right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the fourth largest in the legislature.
The new constitution is opposed by the biggest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose deputy chairman Bulent Tezcan said it would restore powers “to the palace” taken away from the Ottoman sultan a century ago.