Turkish President Erdogan's ruling AKP party has sent a constitutional reform bill to parliament after lining up extra votes it needs from a smaller party. Opponents fear Erdogan is headed for one-man rule until 2029.
Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) formally submitted its draft constitutional rewrite to parliament's speaker in Ankara on Saturday despite criticism that it would weaken democratic checks and balances.
The move follows further talks between the AKP and parliament's fourth-largest party, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which could provide at least 14 votes to clinch a three-fifths majority needed to submit the bill to a nationwide referendum.
The AKP has 316 lawmakers in Turkey's 550-seat assembly but falls short of the 3/5 threshold. The MHP has 39 seats. Erdogan has sought the constitutional change since he became president in 2014.
On Friday, one of Turkey's deputy prime ministers, Nurettin Canikli, said a referendum would be held "around March or April," while ruling out early elections.
Presidential and parliamentary elections would be held together in 2019, he said.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed that the bill would "save the country" from coups. Since the 1960s, Turkey has gone through three military ousters, not counting July's abortive bid to seize power from Erdogan.
'Regime change,' says CHP
The AKP's constitutional rewrite is opposed by Turkey's main opposition Republic People's Party (CHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), whose leaders are among thousands arrested since July's failed coup.
On Friday, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the changes sought by the AKP risked wrecking Turkey's parliamentary system, which dates back 140 years.
"This is regime change, not a system change," said Kilicdaroglu.
Since becoming president in 2014, after more than a decade as prime minister, Erdogan has sought an executive-style presidency akin to that of the United States and France.
His opponents, pointing to mass arrests and job dismissals since July, accuse him of exhibiting increasingly authoritarian behavior.
Multiple reports Saturday said the AKP package also sought to restructure Turkey's security and judicial sectors.
Parliament's role would be confined to legislative matters, with even the budget excluded, necessitating a qualified majority to overrule the president.
He would have sweeping executive powers to rule by decree and the prerogative to appoint ministers.
He already wields wide-ranging powers under Turkey's state of emergency in place since July's failed military coup.
ipj/sms(AFP, dpa, Reuters)