Turkey submits constitutional change bill to parliament

Ruling party seeks opposition support in parliament for referendum in early summer

10.12.2016 - Update : 11.12.2016
Turkey submits constitutional change bill to parliament

By Melda Cetiner Karagoz


A bill to change the Constitution and governing system was submitted Saturday to parliament.

Justice and Development [AK] Party's Group Deputy Chairman Mustafa Elitas submitted the bill to Parliament Speaker Ismail Kahraman with 316 signatures -- the total number of ruling party's seats.

The party’s Gaziantep deputy Abdulhamit Gul said 21 articles would be changed in the current Constitution.

"The bill shows the national consensus. This is a nationwide agreement," he told reporters at a press conference.

Nationalist Movement Party's Afyonkarahisar deputy Mehmet Parsak said "removing 'Turk' expression is not part of the bill."

"It cannot be even put into discussion. The first four articles of our Constitution is out of discussion," he added.

After receiving the bill, Kahraman said it consists of "a rooted change" to the Constitution.

The bill allows the elected president to maintain ties with his own party.

The president would also have executive power and can assign vice presidents, if the parliament approves the amendments.

The number of deputies will also increase to 600 from 550.

The authority to propose the bill of law would belong to lawmakers, but the president would be authorized to prepare and present the budget law. The budget would be accepted with the approval of the assembly.

Speaking before an award ceremony in Istanbul, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the new constitutional bill would end the coalition period and start a period of constant political power which would bring stability.

The move came following an agreement struck with the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) on draft amendments.

The government has long sought to replace the current parliamentary system with a presidential one, citing flaws in the structure that hinders Turkey’s development.

The ruling party, however, does not have enough lawmakers to enact the proposals. The draft constitution needs at least 330 votes in a secret ballot in parliament to pave the way for a referendum.

The Justice and Development (AK) Party has 316 seats while the MHP has 40 lawmakers. Both parties back the bill.

The largest opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) remains opposed to the changes.

Teams from the AK Party and MHP have carried out detailed work on disputed areas in the draft. Binali Yildirim, who is also the AK Party leader, has repeatedly met MHP head Devlet Bahceli on the issue.

Bahceli said Monday the meetings had been "positive" and that a draft bill on the new Constitution would soon be sent to parliament.

Despite the public having not seen the text of the draft, some media outlets claimed the two parties’ debates focused on three main issues -- the authority of the current president until 2019; limits of presidential decrees and the quorum required to prosecute the president in the Supreme Council.

"The proposal, of course, will be a text that the MHP agrees upon or one that has been negotiated and agreed on,” Yildirim said recently, adding that a referendum to endorse the bill would be possible by early next summer "if everything goes well".

Before that happens, the proposal must be presented to the Turkish Parliament's General Assembly after approval by the Constitutional Committee.

The constitutional amendment would then be discussed at two parliamentary sessions of the General Assembly.

During the first session, the four political parties in the assembly and the government would discuss the proposal as a whole and the articles separately, as well as any motions for amendment. The second session would be devoted only to the discussion of motions for amendment of articles.

If the draft constitution receives more than 367 votes, it can pass directly without the need for a referendum.

But the AK party has said it would hold a referendum, even if none is needed.

If two-thirds of parliament, or 367 members approve the bill, the president can take it to a referendum. That vote would be held within 60 days.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan emphasized that he would push for a referendum even if the draft is approved by a two-thirds majority in parliament.

The change to the constitution requires a 50 percent vote in favor in a referendum.

Constitutional change -- in particular, the call for a presidential system -- has been on the political agenda since Erdogan, the former prime minister and AK Party leader, was elected Turkey's president in August 2014.

That election was the first time a Turkish president was directly chosen by popular vote.

In the current parliamentary model, Turkish people vote for 550 members of parliament. The government is formed by minimum number of 276 lawmakers.

In the proposed presidential system, the electorate would vote for a person to form a government independently of parliament, with no need of a vote of confidence.

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