In path to greater executive power, Erdogan faces weak Turkey economy

One reason for AKP success had been successful economic initiatives

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is closer to getting a power boost after parliament's first approval of a bill to change the constitution, but the flagging economy could present an unexpected roadblock.
The Turkish parliament approved late Sunday, on first reading, a bill to create an executive presidency like in France or the United States, but which critics fear will lead to one-man rule.
However, after a bloody 2016 during which hundreds of people were killed in multiple terror attacks and a failed coup last summer, the Turkish economy is losing momentum.
Unemployment is increasing, inflation is rising, economic growth is slowing down and the Turkish lira is reaching record lows against the US dollar.
Investor confidence has fallen while tourism has dramatically dropped with holidaymakers avoiding the country last year because of the violence and political instability.
This is in stark contrast to the booming Turkish economy under the rule of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Erdogan, since 2002.
One of the main reasons for Erdogan and the AKP's continued electoral success was this boom that followed the 2001 financial crisis. It even made itself known with a new lira that no longer had six extra zeros introduced in 2005.
From fast trains connecting big cities to new bridges, large hospitals to the development of long-neglected central Turkish cities, the AKP ploughed money into areas that had not seen such rapid development.
The constitution plan has now gone to a second reading in the parliament on Wednesday where the 18 articles will again be debated one by one.
If approved again with 330 votes from the 550-seat parliament, it will go to a referendum, expected this spring, for the people to decide.
- 'A vote on Erdogan's leadership' -
Questions were raised this week over whether the worsening economy would affect Erdogan's chances of winning the public vote for constitutional changes.
Jean Marcou, professor at Sciences Po Grenoble and associate researcher at the French Institute of Anatolian Studies, said the current state of the economy could affect the AKP's voters.
But he noted that the government played the "security card" to create fear among the Turkish public, suggesting safety and peace could play a bigger role in people's decision.
Marcou said Erdogan presented himself as the leader to tackle the security troubles in the southeast where the state is fighting against Kurdish rebels, to rid the Islamic State group and battle against his former ally-turned-foe Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen whose movement is blamed for the July 15 attempted putsch.
Erdogan has also repeatedly urged Turks to change their foreign currency into lira to stimulate the currency which was at 3.78 against the greenback on Wednesday afternoon. Less than a month ago, it was 3.52 against the dollar.
The president attributed the dizzying fall of the lira to interference in the markets with elements he called "terrorists" aimed at "putting Turkey on its knees".
For Murat Yetkin, editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News, it would be unlikely that the "economic difficulties of today will dramatically affect the result of the referendum" because the vote is about Erdogan.
"If the country goes to a referendum, it will not be about the government or its economic programme. Many people will not even consider it as a radical shift in Turkey's administrative system, but 'Yes' or 'No' to Erdogan's leadership."
- 'Relative prosperity' -
According to Ilter Turan, emeritus professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University, when the people decide on the changes, their motivations will be varied.
"Concerning the change of constitution, liking or not the government is not the only factor. In these times, the problems that Turkey has can end up in the rejection of the people," Turan said.
The proposed changes, which would create an executive presidency for the first time in modern Turkey, are controversial and far-reaching.
The president would have the power to appoint and fire ministers, while the post of prime minister will be abolished for the first time in Turkey's history.
Instead, there would be a vice president, or possibly several.
According to Jean-Francois Perouse, director of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies in Istanbul, there still remained the belief that if the electorate does not support Erdogan, this would "jeopardise relative prosperity".
"It remains to be seen whether explanations provided by Erdogan (on the economy) will convince people, and given the public's state of mind, they can convince," Perouse said.