Four years after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed sweeping powers, he has wrong-footed his opponents once again by calling for a new Constitution, sparking accusations of trying to set up a diversion from the country’s woes.
Taking seemingly everyone off guard, Mr. Erdogan mentioned early last week during one of his near-daily speeches that “it may be time for Turkey to reopen the debate about a new Constitution”.
The timing aroused immediate suspicions over the intentions of a man who has been at the apex of Turkish political life since 2003, first as Prime Minister and as President since 2014.
The 66-year-old Turkish leader is facing a sudden burst of student protests, an economy that was under strain even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck last year, and polls showing a melting support base.
The current Constitution was changed in a controversial 2017 referendum, which created an executive presidency.
It went into force barely a year later when Mr. Erdogan won re-election, with the amendments allowing him to consolidate his power.
Since then the only politicians demanding constitutional changes have been members of the opposition, all calling for a return to the previous parliamentary democracy.
‘Change the agenda’
Few think this is what Mr. Erdogan has in mind.
“This is only an attempt to change the agenda so that the economy, the pandemic, farmers’ concerns, traders’ worries and rights violations aren’t discussed,” Idris Sahin, deputy chairman of the opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said.
DEVA was launched last year by Ali Babacan, a former Erdogan ally who won the West’s trust as Economy Minister.
Mr. Sahin dismissed Mr. Erdogan’s move as “absolutely not a sincere idea”, describing it instead as a belated response to opposition parties’ attempts to dilute the executive presidency.