Turkey's constitutional changes a 'dangerous step backwards': Council of Europe

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 10, 2017 1:03 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey's proposed constitutional changes to greatly strengthen the president's powers would be a "dangerous step backwards" for democracy, a panel of legal experts at the Council of Europe said on Friday.

A statement from the panel said the amendments would give the president "the power to dissolve parliament on any grounds whatsoever, which is fundamentally alien to democratic presidential systems".

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says he wants a powerful executive presidency to guarantee stability and prevent a return to the fragile coalitions of previous decades.

Opponents say the change would push Turkey toward one-man rule and the erosion of basic rights and freedoms.

The Council of Europe panel's legal opinion has no binding power over Turkey, which joined the 47-nation body in 1950.

The NATO member state of 80 million people will vote on the reform in a plebiscite on April 16, with a simple majority needed to approve legislation passed by parliament in January and rubber-stamped by Erdogan last month.

The legislation enables the president to issue decrees, declare emergency rule, appoint ministers and top state officials and dissolve parliament. The two largest opposition parties say the proposals would remove the balances to the already considerable influence Erdogan wields over government.

The Council of Europe experts said they had concerns about provisions allowing the new president to exercise executive power alone "with unsupervised authority to appoint and dismiss ministers, and to appoint and dismiss all high officials on the basis of criteria determined by him or her alone".

They saw it as weakening the "already inadequate system of judicial oversight of the executive".

The full legal opinion from the Council of Europe, founded in 1949 to promote human rights, democracy and rule of law, will be published on Monday.

Erdogan says an overhauled political system is needed to tackle security threats ranging from Islamic State and Kurdish militant bombings to a coup attempt in July in which at least 240 people died.

The legal opinion criticized the Turkish parliament's approval of the amendments when several deputies from the second-largest opposition party were in jail.

"The vote for approving the amendments was cast in breach of secret ballot, casting doubt on the genuine nature of support for reform and on the personal nature of the deputies’ vote," it said.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Andrew Roche)