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Turkey sets April 16 for vote to expand Erdogan powers

1 min 36Approximate reading time

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday rubber-stamped controversial constitutional changes that will boost his own powers, paving the way for a referendum on the legislation in April.

The government says the proposals to create an executive presidency will simplify the government structure, but opponents fear they will lead to one-man rule in Turkey.  

"People will have the final say," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in comments carried by the Anadolu news agency, announcing that the referendum would take place on April 16.

Parliament in January approved a new 18-article constitution to create an executive presidency in the NATO member state along the lines of the system in France and the United States.

Brawls erupted between lawmakers during debates over the bill, highlighting the divisive nature of the changes, the most far-reaching constitutional shift since the creation of modern Turkey in 1923.

Erdogan approved the legislation six months after an attempted coup against him by a rogue military faction in July last year.  

Under the new constitution, the president will have strengthened executive powers to directly appoint top public officials including ministers. 

The post of prime minister, currently held by Erdogan loyalist Binali Yildirim, would be replaced with one or more vice presidents.

Erdogan's supporters say the changes are necessary for effective government and to avoid fragile and unstable coalitions that were a feature of Turkey's political scene in the past.

The bill also calls for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held at the same time, with the draft giving November 3, 2019 as the date of the next ballot.

- 'Unpredictable adventure'-


The referendum campaign is due to formally kick off on February 25, with Kurtulmus expressing hope that it would reflect "the maturity of Turkish democracy."

"Everyone -- those who say 'yes' and those who say 'no' will express their views," he said.

The main opposition has accused Erdogan -- seen as increasingly autocratic after 14 years in power as both prime minister and president -- of trying to decapitate parliament.

"Now we will take power from the parliament and give it to one man," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP), said in a televised speech.

"Can Turkey be dragged into an unpredictable adventure? Did we found the republic for this," he said. 

Erdogan, the most powerful Turkish politician since founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became president in August 2014, in the first ever direct elections for a Turkish head of state.

But there have been suggestions that the clock on his presidency will start from zero from 2019 as the new constitution creates a new presidential role.

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