Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted his country to have a new “libertarian” constitution, raising concerns that the move will help him cement his power indefinitely.
Erdogan told participants Tuesday at a ceremony for new judges and prosecutors that the current constitution was a product of previous coups.
“We cannot accept that we are welcoming the centenary of our republic with a post-coup constitution,” Erdogan told the meeting.
“God willing, we should crown the intensive struggle we have been waging in the judiciary since 2002 with a civilian, libertarian, and inclusive constitution,” Erdogan added. Turkey’s current constitution was written after a 1980 military coup.
Erdogn may seek to change the election system
Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı, Ankara director for the German Marshall Fund, said Erdogan wants to change the rule that winning presidential candidates must gain 50% of the popular vote plus at least one additional vote.
In Turkey’s presidential election in May, Erdogan was forced into a second voting round, which he then won with 52% of the votes cast.
Ünlühisarcıklı said Erdogan also wants the new constitution to enshrine conservative social values, including limits on LGBT rights and ensuring women’s right to wear an Islamic headscarf, a practice that previous secular governments have limited.
Erdogan also wants to keep his conservative alliance together through a constitutional process that would appeal to them all while dividing the opposition, Ünlühisarcıklı told The Media Line.
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst for the RANE risk intelligence company, said that Erdogan, aged 69, is looking to entrench his rule and leave his mark on the country when he is no longer in charge.
Bohl says the new constitution could include a more significant role for Islam and a decreased one for secularism. It might also have ways of helping the ruling Justice and Development party
remain in power even if its popularity falls.
This, he told The Media Line, could be achieved by increasing the government’s control over the judiciary and boosting the voting power of rural areas.
Erdogan and his party have already seen their popularity fade in recent years due to the country’s economic troubles and discontent over the number of refugees living in Turkey.
In the run-up to the May presidential election, Erdogan said that a new constitution would mark the country’s centennial. The modern Turkish Republic was founded in 1923.
A new constitution would require the support of hundreds of legislators to gain parliamentary approval. Alternatively, fewer parliamentarians from parties not in the ruling coalition could support a popular referendum.
In 2017, Turkey held a popular referendum on giving the president vast new powers. It succeeded with little more than 51%.
Bohl said Erdogan could gain parliamentary support for a referendum by holding more elections or replacing opposition parliamentarians with supporters.
“He’s got to find a way to sway those people or to replace them,” Bohl said, and “he’s going to have to play hardball to do this.”
In 2016, Erdogan signed a bill lifting the immunity of lawmakers. Since then, several have been sent to prison.
Bohl said the US would likely limit its opposition to any constitutional change, given Turkey’s importance to the NATO alliance during Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ankara has played a vital role by helping with prisoner exchanges and negotiating a now-defunct deal to export Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
The grain deal, Bohl said, has “really brought Turkey to the forefront of strategic thinking.” More broadly, however, the “US is not in a position to impose sanctions” on Turkey, as it needs the country’s backing in its confrontation with Russia.
The only thing that might give Erdogan pause, Bohl said, is an adverse reaction from foreign investors. These may fear the new constitution would institutionalize the Turkish president’s unorthodox economic policies, which many say are at least partly to blame for the country’s financial woes.