Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday his ruling AK Party and its nationalist allies may start work on drafting a new constitution, less than four years after overhauling the previous constitution to grant his office sweeping powers.
Turks had voted in favour of the constitutional changes in 2017, leading the country to switch from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system despite strong backlash from opposition parties and critics.
Erdogan was elected president under the new system in 2018, with sweeping executive powers that opposition parties described as a “one-man regime”. The AKP and their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies have defended the system, saying it created a streamlined state apparatus.
“Perhaps, the time has come for Turkey to once again discuss a new constitution,” Erdogan said following a cabinet meeting in Ankara. “If we reach an understanding with our alliance partner, we may mobilise for a new constitution in the coming period,” he said, adding that efforts should be transparent and shared with the public.
“No matter how much we change, it is not possible to erase the signs of coup and tutelage that have been inserted into the spirit of the constitution”, he said, adding he was upset that previous such attempts had foundered over the main opposition’s “uncompromising stance”.
Erdogan’s remarks come weeks after MHP leader Devlet Bahceli suggested constitutional changes to ban the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) for separatism, a move the HDP condemned as an attempt to silence six million votes.
Bahceli has long been a fierce critic of the HDP and, like Erdogan, accuses it of links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who have fought a 36-year-old insurgency in southeast Turkey. The HDP denies this.
“Work on a constitution is not something that can be done under the shadow of groups linked to the terrorist organisation (PKK) with people whose mental and emotional ties to their country are broken,” Erdogan said on Monday, without specifying.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticised what they see as increasing authoritarianism and threats to the rule of law under Erdogan, especially since a 2016 coup attempt that prompted sweeping crackdowns on his perceived opponents in public services, the military and elsewhere.
Turkish authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the measures were necessary for national security.