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Turkey eyes spring referendum on stronger presidency, election in 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to lawyers at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on April 5, 2016.
Kayhon Ozer | AFP | Getty Images
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech to lawyers at the Presidential Complex in Ankara, Turkey on April 5, 2016.

Turkey plans a referendum by next May on constitutional changes that would expand the powers of the president and will then hold presidential and parliamentary polls together in 2019, a deputy prime minister said on Friday.

Nurettin Canikli told A Haber TV in an interview that the ruling AK Party would submit its proposal on the constitutional changes to parliament on Friday and that the nationalist MHP opposition would support the bill.

"The referendum looks like it could be held around March or April, but it could also be pushed to May," he said, ruling out any early election before 2019.

President Tayyip Erdogan and his supporters have long argued that Turkey needs the strong leadership of an executive president, akin to the system in the United States or France, to avoid the fragile coalition governments of its past.

Opponents fear the change will bring increasing authoritarianism to a country already under fire from Western allies over its record on rights and freedoms, especially after widespread purges in the wake of a failed July coup.


People gather for celebration around Turkish police officers, loyal to the government, standing atop tanks abandoned by Turkish army officers, against a backdrop of Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, July 16, 2016, Turkey.
Getty Images
People gather for celebration around Turkish police officers, loyal to the government, standing atop tanks abandoned by Turkish army officers, against a backdrop of Istanbul's iconic Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul, July 16, 2016, Turkey.

Canikli said he expected all members of the AKP to vote in favour of the proposal and that the nationalist MHP opposition would also support the bill.

Any constitutional change needs the support of at least 330 deputies in Turkey's 550-seat assembly to go to a referendum. The AKP has 316 lawmakers eligible for voting, and the MHP 39.

On Monday, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli was cited by broadcaster CNN Turk as saying there were no issues with the draft of the bill.

Under the current constitution, the president's powers are largely ceremonial. But Erdogan has redefined the role since winning the first direct presidential election in 2014, saying his popular mandate justifies greater involvement in government.

AKP officials refer to the current system - which while parliamentary in name is dominated by Erdogan - as a "de facto presidential system". Canikli said the current system would continue until the election in 2019.

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