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Erdogan Continues Effort to Hold on to Power in Turkey

  • Dorian Jones

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 11, 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 11, 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's aspiration to change Turkey's parliamentary system of government to an executive presidency is being blamed for the collapse of talks to create a new constitution.

Erdogan is already touring the country promoting an executive presidency; but, lack of parliamentary support could make a general election more likely.

The collapse of the cross-party parliamentary constitutional commission after only its third meeting, amid mutual recriminations, means Erdogan’s ruling AK Party remains short of the three-fifths parliamentary majority needed to introduce a new constitution, which would then be ratified by a referendum.

Political columnist Kadri Gursel of the al-Monitor Website says the president could already be looking toward an early election.

"If he can't succeed to find some minimum 20 opposition members in the parliament to support his draft constitution for presidential system - he will take the country into snap elections, by accusing the opposition to block Turkey’s way, to prevent Turkey addressing its urgent needs," he said.

Erdogan has already launched a nationwide campaign, backed by non-governmental organizations, calling for a strong presidency to replace the current parliamentary system under the 1982 constitution written by Turkey’s then-military rulers.

Erdogan argues that for Turkey to achieve rapid economic development, the new presidency should not be hindered by many checks and balances. Critics say such a system would be a dictatorship; but, with Turkey facing renewed fighting with Kurdish rebels, along with a raging Syrian civil war on its border, Gursel says the president and his supporters are in a strong position.

"We see, for example, [a] staunchly pro-Erdogan newspaper putting a headline, 'presidency or chaos,'" he said. "Now with all of his media power, his power of cult of personality, leadership qualities etc., he will try to create a perception, without his own custom made presidential system, Turkey will go to hell."

With Erdogan insisting that the country is in urgent need of constitutional reform, speculation is growing that a general election could be held as early as this year; but, political consultant Atilla Yesilada, of Global Source Partners, says while the president remains a political giant, he will be taking a big gamble if he goes to the polls for the third time in two years.

"Times of trouble, the people want a strong leadership, but there comes a point when the trouble lasts too long and people start doubting that strong leadership," he said. "So if Erdogan chooses an early election this time he may be punished, for the poor economy, as well as this never-ending strife and tensions in the country. And from polls I consider independent, a majority remains unconvinced about the wisdom of a presidential system."

There is reportedly even dissent within Erdogan’s party over a powerful executive presidency; but, with Erdogan having an iron grip over the party and control over most of the mainstream media, observers say he remains well placed to achieve his goal.

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