November 29, 2016 / 10:06 AM / 2 years ago

Turkish PM says finalizing constitutional change to bolster Erdogan powers

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s ruling AK Party is finalizing plans to formally cement President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers by creation of an executive presidency and will meet the nationalist opposition to iron out details, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Erdogan has long sought constitutional change to strengthen what had been in the past a largely ceremonial position. Unrivalled in popularity, he has turned the presidency into a powerful vehicle for his ambitions, bolstered since a failed July military coup by imposition of emergency rule.

To achieve the majority needed in parliament to trigger a referendum on the issue, the AKP needs the support of the nationalist MHP party.

“We will meet one more time with (MHP leader Devlet) Bahceli and give this (constitutional) change its final shape,” Yildirim told a parliamentary meeting of his party.

Earlier, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Bahceli said “significant progress” had been made in their talks and he believed the bill could be sent to the constitutional commission once “one or two” issues are overcome.

Officials who have seen a draft of the reform told Reuters earlier this month that Erdogan could govern Turkey until 2029 under the proposal.

Erdogan’s supporters argue Turkey needs a strong executive presidency, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid fragile coalition governments that hampered development in the past. The country also faces threats from war across the border in Syria and Iraq and turmoil following the coup bid.

Opponents fear it will bring increasing authoritarianism to a country already under fire from Western allies over its deteriorating record on rights and freedoms.

The head of parliament’s constitutional commission, AKP’s Mustafa Sentop, said his party would submit the constitutional reform draft to parliament within two weeks, Dogan news agency reported.

“We will present a constitutional change for our people’s approval in a referendum in the spring months,” he told a university conference in northwest Turkey on Monday.

Reporting by Ercan Gurses and Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan

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