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Turkey’s opposition parties against Erdoğan’s plan to simplify presidential elections

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Leaders of opposition parties in Turkey have voiced objections to plans by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to amend the Constitution to make the election of the president easier by removing the requirement for an absolute majority.

Erdoğan, who was elected president again in a runoff held in May, brought the issue of easing the rules for electing the president to the agenda on Saturday, when he was returning from a visit to Germany.

He said he thinks changing the 50 percent+1 rule in presidential elections would be appropriate and would help conclude the process more quickly. He claimed that the 50 percent+1 rule is forcing political parties to seek new alliances and “take wrong paths” just to have their candidates elected.

An ally of Erdoğan, far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli, was the first to object to a possible change in the constitution to elect the president by a simple majority rather than the current absolute majority, which requires a presidential candidate to get more than 50 percent of the nationwide vote for election to the top state post.

He said there has been no change in his party’s stance on the need for an absolute majority since it concerns the election of the president of the country. He said “50 percent+1 is the backbone, the core and security of the system.”

It was one of the rare moments when Bahçeli has disagreed with Erdoğan.

Bahçeli was followed by opposition leaders who accused Erdoğan and the MHP leader of being at odds over a system that they strongly supported when it was first introduced in 2017.

Turkey switched from a parliamentary system to a presidential system of governance in 2017 that granted vast powers to the president.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Özgür Özel accused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the MHP of monopolizing the nation’s agenda with talk about a change to the constitution. He said his party would not lend any support to such a constitutional amendment.

Co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) Tuncer Bakırhan said although the AKP and the MHP promoted the presidential system of governance, claiming that it would bring peace and democracy to the country and end poverty, they are now in disagreement over over it.

He said the AKP and the MHP are about to demolish a system they established five years ago. Bakırhan said any system that does not take into account the needs of the people is doomed to fail.

İYİ (Good) Party leader Meral Akşener said although she warned Erdoğan about the possible problems that could arise from a presidential system of governance in 2017, he did not listen to any criticism and is now faced with those problems.

She said if Erdoğan is proposing the constitutional amendment to get himself elected again, her party will never support it.

Under the presidential system of governance, a president is elected for a five-year renewable term. Erdoğan said before the May election that he was running for president for the last time.

Akşener also called on Erdoğan to avoid alliances in the upcoming local elections if he is uneasy about them, saying her party’s plan is to field its own candidates without any alliance with another political party.

Turkey will hold local elections on March 31.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, leader of the Gelecek (Future) Party, and Felicity Party (SP) leader Temel Karamollaoğlu also voiced objections to Erdoğan’s plan to simplify the election of the president, saying it was Erdoğan who introduced the system. Their remarks came during their joint parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday.

Davutoğlu said a person can’t make changes to the structure and rules of the state whenever they feel like it, while Karamollaoğlu accused Erdoğan of acting arbitrarily in state affairs.

He said having seen that it is no longer possible for him to get 50 percent+1 nationwide support, Erdoğan is now seeking to lower the threshold to make sure he’s elected again.

Erdoğan was elected president the first time under the parliamentary system in 2014. His election as head of state in 2018 was under the presidential system of governance, which granted him vast powers. In 2018 Erdoğan was able to garner 50 percent+1 of the vote, or 53 percent, in the election, and there was no need to hold a runoff.

A runoff had to be held in the presidential election in May because neither Erdoğan nor his rival, opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, was able to surpass the 50 percent threshold.

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