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Turkey

Turkish parliament approves constitutional reform, expanded powers for Erdogan

Turkey's parliament has approved a controversial constitutional reform package, which aims to empower the office of the presidency. The parliamentary approval paves the way for a referendum on the measures.

Turkish lawmakers early on Saturday voted in favor of a set of constitutional amendments designed to substantially increase the power of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 550-seat parliament approved the 18 amendments to the constitution in a final vote with 339 in favor and 142 against, while five cast empty ballots and two of the votes were ruled invalid. 

The measure required at least 330 votes to be approved and be put forward to a referendum, which is planned for as early as April.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest in parliament, boycotted the vote. Nearly a dozen lawmakers from the party, including its leadership, are imprisoned on terrorism charges  for their alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The vote received the support of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and some lawmakers of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The main opposition center-left Peoples' Republican Party (CHP) voted against the measure, warning that it would lead to dictatorship.

The final constitutional amendments were approved after two rounds of voting on each article over the past two weeks, leading to a number of heated exchanges and brawls in parliament.

Speaking after the vote on Saturday, Erdogan called on supporters to work "day in and day out" during the campaign ahead of the referendum.

"My people will give the final decision... I believe this referendum period will conclude with the will of our people," Erdogan said in Istanbul.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdarolgu said his party would continue to fight against the changes.

"This is a betrayal by the parliament of its own history. Our people will certainly thwart the game that was played in parliament... We will go from door to door and explain this to our people," Kilicdaroglu said.

The AKP argues turning Turkey into an executive presidency will streamline decision making and legalize what is already a de facto presidential system. Erdogan, who assumed the traditionally ceremonial presidential role in 2014 after more than a decade as prime minister, has continued to dominate politics despite legal limits on his power.

If approved in a referendum, the changes would give Erdogan the power to dismiss ministers and parliament, issue decrees, declare emergency rule and appoint figures to key positions, including in the judiciary. The post of prime minister would be replaced by one or more vice presidents.

The changes would also allow Erdogan to rejoin the AKP, the party he helped co-found but was forced to severe ties with when he became president.  

The opposition argues the changes would strip away all checks and balances on Erdogan's already overwhelming power.

The referendum comes as Turkey is already under a state of emergency following last July's failed coup attempt. The scale of the purges and the deterioration of the rule of law has created further concern the country is heading down an authoritarian path.

There are also questions on how well-informed the public will be to make a decision in the referendum given the state of emergency and the government's control over the media.

cw/ss/kl (AP, AFP, dpa)

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