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Doors open to all for new constitutional reforms in Turkey: Erdoğan

ANKARA, Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the doors were open for all political parties to contribute to constitutional reform and welcomed the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli’s support for the initiative.

“Our doors and hearts are open to everyone who will stand beside us in our struggle to turn the opportunity into victory,” Erdoğan told supporters during the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) congress in Artvin province via video link from the party’s headquarters in the capital Ankara.

The president continued by saying that the ruling party would like to see everyone who wants to contribute to the process, rather than sabotaging it, take an active role in the revision process.

Erdoğan argued that working on a civilian Constitution in replacement of the existing one would broaden Turkey’s horizons and contribute to the country’s existing achievements.

The president noted that he welcomed Bahçeli’s remarks and positive framework regarding the reforms.

MHP Chairperson Devlet Bahçeli said in a written statement that Turkey is “obligated” to replace its current Constitution.

This came a day after Erdoğan said it was time for the country to discuss the issue, vowing that the AK Party would push for a new Constitution if it reached a consensus with the MHP.

Reasserting his party’s commitment to its alliance with the AK Party, Bahçeli underlined in his statement that the country’s Constitution in its present form was the “product of extraordinary conditions.”

Turkey’s current Constitution was drafted following the September 12, 1980, coup d’etat, and it still features elements of putschist influence despite a number of amendments having been made to subdue it.

AK Party wants Turkey to have a civilian-drafted Constitution by 2023, coinciding with the centenary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey.

Dismissing speculation about switching to the parliamentary system, Erdoğan said the new Constitution would be formed in line with the presidential system of government, which was approved in a referendum.

On April 16, 2017, Turkey held a referendum during which the majority of voters decided in favour of an 18-article bill to switch from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

Erdogan said 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.