Fists are flying and emotions are high in Turkey this week, as the parliament debates constitutional changes that would drastically expand the powers of President Tayyip Erdogan. Following a brawl on the parliament floor, a leading AK Party member is threatening drastic measures if Erdogan doesn’t get his way. Reuters:
Turkey will hold elections if parliament fails to approve a constitutional reform package expanding President Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, a ruling AK Party lawmaker was quoted as saying by state-run Anadolu agency on Thursday.
His comments came after lawmakers threw punches and shoved one another in parliament overnight in a debate on the reform package, adding to the sense of political and economic unease that has helped pushed the lira to record lows this week.
The AKP, backed by the nationalist MHP, is pushing through the legislation that Erdogan says will bring the strong leadership needed to prevent a return of the fragile coalition governments of the past.
“If the proposal does not pass in the general assembly, even if nobody wants it, Turkey will have to hold elections,” said Mustafa Sentop, an AKP lawmaker and head of parliament’s constitutional commission.
The contentious nature of the debate is no surprise, given the high stakes: if adopted, the package would pave the path for a referendum that could transform the role of Turkey’s executive and allow Erdogan to rule until 2029. What does strike a discordant note, though, is the threat of snap elections. Given AKP’s triumph at the polls in November 2015, that measure would seem to be unnecessary. Erdogan’s party won a Parliamentary majority in the last elections, and his brutal anti-Kurdish campaign has earned him the trust of the nationalist MHP faction. In theory, that should have given him enough votes to clear the 3/5 threshold needed to pass the reform bill.
The threat of early elections might just be a bluff. Or it could signify something deeper: a recognition of growing unease at Erdogan’s ongoing consolidation of power after July’s coup, which could endanger his reform’s prospects in parliament. Erdogan’s far-reaching arrests of generals and opposition politicians may have given pause to some who would otherwise vote for the reforms; some pundits have even speculated that defections from within the AKP could jeopardize the bill’s passage.
So far, five of the 18 measures proposed have passed, but more contentious articles are still on the docket. The full debate is expected to take two weeks, so in the days ahead we will get a clearer picture of whether Erdogan needs to worry.