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Turkey: Parliamentary Commission Approves Amendments to Constitution that Would Enhance President’s Powers

(Jan. 9, 2017) On December 30, 2016, the Commission on the Constitution in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly (GNA, the parliament) approved several draft amendments to the country’s Constitution that would, among other measures, augment the powers of the president and change the government to a presidential system from the current prime minister-led system. Of an initial package of 21 amendments, the number was whittled down to 18 by the Commission.  (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, DAILY SABAH (Jan. 1, 2017).) Discussions on a constitutional reform package began in January 2016. (Id.)

Proposed changes affecting the presidency and the election system include:

  • abolition of the prime ministry (id.);
  • ability of an elected president to maintain ties with his/her own party (id.);
  • election of the president by popular vote, from among persons “who have attained 40 years of age, have completed higher education and have the right to be elected deputies and are born Turkish nationals,” for up to two five-year terms (Comparison of 1982 Constitution to Changes Offered in New Package, DAILY SABAH (Dec. 31, 2016), with reference to proposed art, 7 of the amendment package), with the next general and presidential elections to be held on Nov. 3, 2019 (id. with reference to art. 17 of the package);
  • authority of the president to make decisions by decree on the establishment and closing of ministries and organizations and to appoint senior public officials (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, supra);
  • authority of the president to declare a state of emergency (id.);
  • holding of parliamentary and presidential elections every five years, on the same day (Comparison of 1982 Constitution to Changes Offered in New Package, supra);
  • authority of Parliament to establish an investigative commission and launch impeachment proceedings against the president, with the signatures of 301 MPs needed to propose an investigation, 360 MPs (i.e., three-fifths) needed for the establishment of a commission, and a secret ballot of 401 MPs in favor needed for the proposed impeachment to be referred to the Supreme Court (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, supra; Constitution Amendment Passed by Commission, BBC (Dec. 30, 2016) (in Turkish); and
  • an increase in the number of MPs from 550 to 600, given the growing population (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, supra); and
  • a reduction in the minimum age for candidacy, in line with European practice, from 25 years of age to 18 (id.).

Other amendments would:

  • decrease the size of the National Security Council (Milli Güvenlik Kurulu, MGK) (id.);
  • remove the gendarmerie forces from the control of the MGK (id.);
  • abolish the military high courts, in an effort to remove differing practices between the military and civil courts, thereby reducing the number of members on the Constitution Court to 15 because of the removal of the two members from the military courts (id.);
  • authorize Parliament and the president to select members of the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (Hakimler ve Savcilar Yüksek Kurulu, HSYK) in order, according to one news source, “to remove members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) from within the judiciary” (id.);
  • change the structure of the HSYK, reducing it from a 22-member to a 13-member body, seven elected by parliamentary vote and the remaining six selected by the president, and reducing the number of its chambers from three to two (id.);
  • place the Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Silahli Kuvvetleri, TSK) under civilian oversight through the State Supervisory Council (Devlet Denetleme Kurulu), which is led by the presidency (id.); and
  • authorize the president, who is also the commander-in-chief, to appoint the TSK’s chief of general staff (id.).

The HSYK, under article 159 of the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey “has been responsible for recruiting, appointing, transferring, authorising, promoting, disciplinary issues and removal of judges and prosecutors.” (Servet Saglam, The Turkish High Council of Judges and Prosecutors in the Context of Judicial Independence and Accountability, 4:2 LAW & JUSTICE REVIEW 166 (Dec. 2013); Constitution of the Republic of Turkey (Oct. 18, 1982, as last amended Mar. 17, 2011), Grand National Assembly of Turkey website; Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Anayasasi [Constitution of the Republic of Turkey] (Oct. 18, 1982, as last amended by Law No. 6718 of May 20, 2016, in force on June 8, 2016); About Us, HYSK website (last visited Jan. 6, 2017).)

The proposed package of amendments, once presented to the GNA, will be discussed and voted upon article by article before put to a vote as a whole by the parliament, where a minimum of 330 votes will be needed for it to pass. (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, supra; Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, art. 175.) Given that agreement had been reached on the proposal in committee between the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has 316 seats, and the Nationalist Movement Party, which has 39 seats, it is expected that the amendments will pass, perhaps before the end of January.  (Turkey Likely to Continue Discussing New Constitution in 2017, supra.)  Upon passage of the proposed measures, a referendum on them “is expected to take place in the spring of 2017.”  (Id.)