Turkish Parliament Approves New Presidential Powers
On January 14, the Turkish parliament approved 18 articles to be added to the nation’s constitution. In April, a countrywide referendum will decide if these new articles will formally become part of the constitution. The articles address, among other issues, the powers of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the elimination of the post of prime minister. Since former prime minister Erdoğan became president in 2014, the role of the president has shifted from largely ceremonial to one of great political importance. As a result, the ruling AKP party has claimed that there is too much potential for overlap between the offices. Supporters of the change claim that rolling back parliamentary powers and increasing the president's influence within the judiciary will promote stability. The current prime minister, Binali Yıldırım, hand-picked by Erdoğan, approves of the measures.
Despite civilian approval, foreign leaders and journalists, including the BBC, described the move as “a power grab” by Erdoğan. Furthermore, foreign observers believe there is too much room for potential abuse of increased presidential powers. Human Rights Watch argues that the proposed constitutional changes will “fundamentally erode checks and balances on the executive.”
The timing of the referendum has also been criticized. After an attempted coup d’etat in 2016, 160 media outlets were shut down, and some argue that the lack of free press in the country increases the likelihood that the referendum will pass.