Turkey’s Parliament Debates Giving Greater Powers to Erdogan

January 12, 2017 Updated: January 12, 2017

ANKARA, Turkey—Turkey’s Parliament on Jan. 9 kicked off the debate on proposed constitutional amendments that would hand Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s largely ceremonial presidency sweeping executive powers and Erdogan himself the possibility of serving two more five-year terms.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 14 years, has long pushed for imbuing the presidency with greater political powers, arguing that strong leadership would help Turkey grow.

The main opposition party fears that if approved, the reforms would concentrate too much power in Erdogan’s hands, turn the country into a de facto dictatorship, and move Turkey away from democracy and its anchor in the West.

“They are trying to turn the democratic parliamentary regime into a totalitarian regime,” said main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party, or CHP, leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Debate on the set of amendments is expected to last two weeks. The reforms must clear two rounds of balloting in parliament, known as the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, gaining at least 330 of the 550 votes.

If the package is approved by lawmakers, the government will submit it to a voter referendum for final approval—possibly in the spring.

On Jan. 9, police used pepper spray to disperse a group of protesters, including legislators and lawyers, who tried to gather near an entrance to the parliament building to oppose the proposed changes. Some roads leading to the parliament also were blocked.

The ruling party, founded by Erdogan, is 14 votes short of the needed 330, but has secured the backing of the country’s nationalist party.