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Erdogan hints at new Turkish constitution

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[FILES] Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the test ride of an electric driverless bus in Ankara on February 1, 2021. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday it may be time for Turkey to adopt a new constitution, feeding speculation that he could seek a way to extend his rule.

Erdogan, 66, has governed Turkey as prime minister or president since 2002, cementing his control over the nation of 83 million people and surviving a failed coup.

As prime minister, he pushed through changes to the constitution in 2017 that created an executive presidency and abolished the premiership.

He then won the 2018 presidential election, the first of two potential five-year terms.

Turkey is scheduled to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in 2023, meaning that his rule would have to end by 2028 if he were re-elected.

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But after chairing a four-hour cabinet meeting, Erdogan raised the idea of writing a brand new constitution to replace one that Turkey has been using since 1982. It was drafted following a military coup.

“It is clear that the source of Turkey’s problems is that constitutions have always been written by putschists,” Erdogan said in nationally televised remarks.

“It may be time for Turkey to reopen the debate about a new constitution,” he said. “If we reach a common understanding with our (ruling coalition) partners, we may take action for a new constitution in the future.”

Erdogan’s AK Party is allied in parliament with ultranationalist MHP.

Erdogan added the drafting of Turkey’s new constitution “would have to be done in a transparent manner and the agreed-upon text would have to be submitted to the will of the people”.

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Erdogan has never lost an election, but his popularity has been waning since he unleashed a sweeping crackdown after a failed coup in 2016.

His jailing of political opponents and assault on civil liberties has been accompanied by economic problems that analysts blame on financial mismanagement.

The Turkish lira has fallen sharply since 2018, wiping out people’s savings and undermining his support among working-class voters who form a part of Erdogan’s political base.

Soner Cagaptay, Turkey programme director at the Washington Institute, said Erdogan’s comments were his “first admission that he may not win Turkey’s next elections held under the new executive-style presidential system.”

“His likely next step: divide his opposition through culture wars along left-right lines,” Cagaptay said in a tweet.

“Turkey is a right-wing dominated country (where Erdogan will) try to build a new majority.”

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