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Turkey may hold referendum on constitution changes: Erdogan aide

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara on November 4, 2015. © AFP

An aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the Ankara government may hold a national referendum, if necessary, on possible changes to the country’s constitution aimed at expanding presidential powers.

Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, pointed to Erdogan’s push for constitutional changes that would give him executive powers, saying the president believes such amendments can make Turkey “jump up a league.”

“What is the best model for us? Taking into consideration the results of the Nov. 1 election, this is something that will be settled by asking the people,” Kalin said, adding, “This debate cannot be considered independently from the people. If the mechanism is a referendum then a referendum can take place.”

Under Turkey’s current constitution, the president has limited powers. Erdogan has long been seeking to change the constitution in favor of an executive presidency enabling him to govern.

The remarks come after Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), founded by Erdogan, won a resounding victory in Sunday snap election and regained its parliamentary majority last Sunday, securing 317 out of 550 seats in the legislature.

However, the AKP is still 13 seats shy of the 330 needed to call a referendum on the changes.

Supporters of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) hold up a portrait of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as they celebrate in Istanbul after the first results in the country’s general election on November 1, 2015. © AFP

 

In his first speech on Wednesday following the AKP’s stunning victory in the snap poll, the Turkish president renewed the bid that many analysts believe is aimed at consolidating his grip on power, calling on the parliament to address the issue of constitutional changes as a priority.

“Solving the issue of a new constitution was one of the most important messages of November 1,” Erdogan said during the televised address to the nation.

Fears of authoritarian rule

This as political opponents to President Erdogan fear that granting sweeping powers to the president could put too much power in the hands of Erdogan, a leader they already consider too authoritarian.

Opponents and human rights groups accuse Erdogan of trying to stifle opposition media critical of the president or government policies.

On Monday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) slammed Turkey’s parliamentary vote, saying a media crackdown, violence and other security concerns have marred the election.

The government has launched a clampdown on supporters of the US-based Turkish opposition cleric Muhammed Fethullah Gulen since 2013, when prosecutors launched corruption probes into people close to Erdogan.

Gulen reportedly has many followers in some arms of Turkey’s state apparatus, such as the judiciary, police and secret services.

The cleric, who left for the United States in 1999, is set to be tried in absentia on January 6.


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