Amid surveillance, Turkish MPs debate more powers for Erdoğan

2017 referendum, Commentary

Voter intimidation and opposition excitement dominate first full day of parliament debate on executive presidency system

The odds are still that a month from now Turkey will be preparing for a referendum on proposals to radically change the way the country is governed.

But it looks like it will be every bit as dramatic and hard-fought as we expected.

On Monday night, parliament approved the first stage of plans to abolish the post of prime minister and grant executive powers to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If the plans clear all the parliamentary hurdles and a subsequently referendum, they would create the single-most powerful position in this part of the world since the Ottoman sultanate.

MPs will now proceed to debate and vote on each article of the governing AK Party’s proposal (which is examined in detail on this website here).

The result, as shared by CHP MP Mahmut Tanal (@MTanal)

The government needed the support of at least 330 MPs – or 60 percent of the chamber – to get the proposals through to the next stage. It achieved this, but narrowly:

In favour: 338

Opposed: 134

Blank: 5

Abstain: 2

Invalid: 1

Not voting: 70

It was a result that triggered a flurry of opposition excitement. Could the plans for an executive presidency fall at this hurdle?

Mustafa Balbay, an MP with the CHP MP, pointed out in a tweet that those voting in favour were markedly fewer than the number of AK Party and MHP MPs (355, minus the speaker).

He claimed this was evidence that a few more wavering souls within the two parties could be swayed to change their votes later in the process and push the tally below the 330 mark.

State of parliament as at 9 January 2017

Mr Balbay added the single word Kazanacağız – “we shall win” – but later deleted the tweet entirely.

On the government side, an extraordinary whipping operation was underway. AK Party MPs were seen filming the voting booths, recording which of their own number opted to take their ballot privately into a booth and which chose to cast their vote openly for all to see.

At a public ballot box, this kind of behaviour would be called voter intimidation. Needless to say, not a single AK Party MP was spotted voting against the proposed executive presidency on Monday.

It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from this vote because it was essentially a formality: MPs will now proceed to debate and vote on each individual amendment to the government’s proposal, a process that will take at least a couple of weeks.

This image from appears to show AK Party MPs filming their colleagues as they vote

However, it is possible to make three short points:

First, it is clear that at least some AK Party and MHP MPs rebelled against their party’s position tonight.

Second, the opposition CHP is right to believe the proposals can be thwarted at this parliamentary stage. The margin was so close to the 330-vote mark means only a handful of minds need to be changed.

But – third – this result means the AK Party and MHP will whip their MPs even harder. And given their early tactics involved surveillance, one shudders to think what might follow.

Last modified: Monday 27 February 2017

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