Turkey opposition vows to cut presidential powers if it wins vote

An alliance of opposition parties in Turkey has promised to reduce the powers of the presidency if it wrests control from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party in presidential and parliamentary polls in May, widely seen as the most consequential elections in the country in decades.

In a ceremony in Ankara on Monday, the six parties presented their joint 240-page, 2,300-point programme for Turkey’s post-election future while promising to name a joint candidate to run against Erdogan by February 13.

The Nation Alliance, also known as the Table of Six, pledged to roll back measures implemented by Erdogan and his allies that it said have brought the country towards “one-man rule”. They include introducing a presidential system in a 2017 referendum that abolished the office of the prime minister, concentrating more powers in the hands of the president and cracking down on dissent in the wake of a failed 2016 coup.

The promised reforms include limiting the president to a seven-year term while making an empowered new prime minister accountable to legislators.

Constitutional changes must be ratified by 400 votes in the 600-seat parliament or put up for a national vote if the opposition can pass a 360-vote threshold.

“We will shift to a strengthened parliamentary system,” the programme said. “We will put an end to the president’s power to issue decrees.”

The programme was announced after months of meetings by the opposition groups, composed of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Good Party, Felicity Party, Democrat Party, Democracy and Progress Party, and Future Party.

Excluded from the alliance is the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is the second largest opposition party after the CHP. That party has faced closure after a crackdown by the government for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish armed groups.

Early opinion polls have pointed to tightly contested elections on May 14 although some opposition supporters have been frustrated with the alliance’s reticence to name an opponent to take on Erdogan, who has governed for 20 years, first as prime minister, then as president, starting in 2014.

Opposition pledges to crack down on corruption and restore the strength of Turkey’s traditional institutions, including its state media, garnered some of the loudest cheers from the crowd gathered for Monday’s ceremony.

The six parties promised to make Turkey’s TRT national broadcaster and Anadolu state news agency abide by “the principles of independence and impartiality”. Neither issued an immediate response.

On foreign policy, the opposition stressed the importance of restoring “mutual trust” with the United States and achieving Turkey’s stalled goal of gaining “full membership in the European Union”. It said it would also strive to return to the US-led F-35 fighter jet programme, from which Turkey was removed in 2019 after the government’s purchase of Russian-made missile defence systems.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has more recently sought to sell Ankara F-16 jets.

Washington and other Western allies have largely avoided commenting on the elections but will be closely watching the results due to Turkey’s role as a strategic member of NATO and a key player in wars ranging from Syria to Ukraine.

The opposition parties made no reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in their programme but said they plan to “maintain relations with the Russian Federation with an understanding that both parties are equal and strengthened by balanced and constructive dialogue at the institutional level”.

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