Turkey to submit bill expanding Erdogan powers Saturday
ANKARA - Turkey's ruling party will submit a bill to parliament Saturday expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers just months after the July failed coup, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.
The constitutional change, which has been sought by Erdogan since he became president in 2014, would see Turkey switch to an executive presidency along the lines of the United States or France.
But it has been bitterly criticised by opponents who fear the Turkish strongman -- who first came to power as premier in 2003 -- is heading towards a near open-ended one man rule.
"Our proposal to change the constitution will be submitted to the Turkish parliament tomorrow," Yildirim told reporters on Friday.
The announcement followed months of talks between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Yildirim and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The MHP is the fourth largest party in parliament but the AKP needs its support for the supermajority required to call a referendum on the issue.
Yildirim said the bill would "save our country" from coups, referring to the July 15 attempted putsch which tried to oust Erdogan from power and the three previous occasions since 1960 when governments have been directly ousted by the military.
"We continue to work on changing the system to ensure instability is removed from Turkey's political history absolutely," he said.
The AKP has only 316 seats (excluding the speaker of the parliament) and needs at least 14 lawmakers' votes from the MHP to get three fifths majority required to call the referendum.
Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli told broadcaster A Haber that "consensus had been secured" between the MHP and AKP and a referendum could take place in March, April or May.
The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) vehemently oppose changing the parliamentary system.
The HDP's co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, who made it a political crusade to oppose the new system, is currently under arrest on charges of terror group links along with nine fellow HDP MPs.
Canikli said any changes will be enacted in 2019 when presidential and parliamentary elections will be held simultaneously.
The government has remained tight-lipped on the actual contents of the bill but key changes could include the abolition of the office of the prime minister and replacement with two vice presidents.
A key question will be if under a new constitution the clock starts again on Erdogan's two maximum five-year presidential mandates -- meaning he could stay in power to 2029.