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Opposition parties speak out as Turkey debates constitutional reforms

Another round of debates over constitutional reforms is set to begin in Turkish parliament. Tensions are running high as opposition parties claim the changes will consolidate too much power into the hands of one man.

The second and final round of debates on constitutional reforms begins in Turkish parliament on Wednesday. During the first round, all 18 sections, including the critical one on abolishing the prime minister's office and transferring all power to the president, have been approved. They allow the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to appoint deputies, ministers and high-ranking public officials, while issuing decrees on matters relating to the executive branch.

Some of the most criticized sections of the reform package include parliament losing the power to oversee the cabinet and ministers and changes in the number of Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors and their appointments.

Among the four parties represented in Turkish parliament, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which initiated the reform, only received support from the rightist National Movement Party (MHP).

'Abolishes' separation of power

Engin Altay, group leader for the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP), said the proposal "abolishes the principle of separation of power."

"[The] executive, legislative and judicial [branches] will all be under one roof," he said. "This is why we oppose it vehemently."

Türkei Präsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan (picture-alliance/Anadolu Agency/Turkish Presidency/M. Cetinmuhurdar)

President Erdogan has cracked down on dissent in Turkey following the failed coup

Altay stated that the parliament has three basic tasks: to draft legislation, budgets and oversee executive powers.

"However, with this amendment, the president will have the power to make legislation," he added. "The president will be party to the power of the parliament concerning legislation. If this happens, there would be no meaning in keeping the parliament open."

'Social peace in even more risk'

With 11 imprisoned parliamentarians, including their co-chairs, the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) also opposes the constitutional reform package. "In essence, we oppose the reform because it puts social peace in even more risk," deputy co-chair Meral Danis Bestas told DW. "We don't see it as a constitution of the people."

Bestas pointed out that the co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, were imprisoned during the parliamentary votes, saying: "The fact that the president sent his political rivals to prison is a very dire move ethically."

Bestas also argued the reforms weren't brought on at the people's request but instead are the product of orders given by just one person.

"These reforms have nothing to do with the problems the country is facing - like the economic crisis, violence against women, war, political domination, and education," she said.

According to Bestas, if the reforms take place, the social polarization will deepen, the ongoing war between the Kurdish militants and the Turkish state will intensify and they are prepared to use all resources to prevent this from happening.

Türkei | Polizei blockiert Straße um Proteste vor dem Parlament gegen die Verfassungsänderung zu verhindern (Reuters/U. Bektas)

Demonstrators have taken to the streets of Ankara to protest the reforms

Bestas also stated that according to the current constitution, the president should not lose his impartiality but because if he does, he is in breach of the constitution and that this is a criminal act. The proposed constitutional reforms provide a basis for these breaches and constitutionally allow these criminal acts.

Nationalists support reform

The MPH is the only party to support the government on the reform package. General Secretary Ismet Buyukataman pointed out that at first, his party was against the presidential system. However, after the July 15 coup attempt, they supported ending arguments concerning the political system and decided to back constitutional reforms.

"We believe that if current implementations aren't carried out on constitutional grounds, there will be a regime crisis," Buyukataman told DW. "That is why we are supporting the reform package. Everyone should remember that while the current constitution was being breached, the MHP was making the most noise in opposition. And the only solution to these breaches is constitutional reform - a solution from the parliament."

Türkei der Abgeordnete der Partei der Nationalistischen Bewegung Ismet Büyükataman (MHP)

Buyukataman says his party backed the reforms following the coup attempt

Buyukataman added that while the current system stalled, the opposition parties never brought forward any alternative projects and that behind the one-man regime accusations, lies a dislike towards Erdogan. While accepting the fact that sometimes the president's style goes too far and causes tensions and concerns, Buyukataman believes that the constitutional reform will create an environment where Erdogan will be under more inquiry and scrutiny.

Erdogan's party deny the accusations

AKP parliamentarian Ahmet Iyimaya rejected the claim that the reforms would turn the country into a one-man regime.

"The president has powers in the parliamentary system but no responsibility," he said. "Now, he will be held more responsible, and to perceive this as having more power is just an exaggeration."

Iyimaya believes that with these reforms a dictatorship would not be possible. "Dictatorships don't allow for periodic elections and we've planned for elections every five years with these reforms," he said.

Iyimaya also said that in terms of the judicial system's powers as outlined by the constitution, "there's no difference between the current articles and the reform package."

"You're not electing just anyone; you're electing a jurist," he said. "So, the appointed being forced to do everything the appointee says is out of the question."

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