December 10, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s ruling party on Saturday submitted proposed constitutional amendments that could greatly expand the powers and extend the mandate of the country’s president. Private news channel NTV broadcast images of the parliament speaker receiving the proposal, which garnered 316 supporting signatures from the 550-seat assembly. If cleared by a constitutional committee and approved by parliament, the reforms would pave the way for a referendum on granting the largely ceremonial presidency full executive powers.

Critics feared the proposed reforms would allow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has retained outsized influence over his party and the levers of government, to rule unchecked. “This is a regime change, plain and simple: one-man rule,” lawmaker Seyit Torun of the Republican People’s Party was quoted as saying.

Erdogan, who was prime minister before becoming the president in 2014, has been pushing for a presidential system. The changes would allow the president to appoint the government, retain ties with his party, propose budgets and declare states of emergency.

The amendments were proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, with the newly won agreement of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP. AKP Secretary General Abdulhamit Gul said the bill reflected “a national agreement, a proposition based on Turkey’s needs and experience of government, proposed by two parties.”

Turkey has faced a tumultuous year, rocked by a wave of bombings, renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast and a failed coup attempt. The botched July 15 coup, blamed by Ankara on a movement led by a U.S.-based cleric, set the stage for a sweeping purge of state institutions that has alarmed rights groups and Western governments.

Turkey is a key member in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group but is at odds with Western governments over the role of Syrian Kurds in that fight. The draft constitutional bill, according to media reports, proposes a local election for March 2019, a presidential election and a general election for November 2019, and concentrated executive powers in the hands of the president.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said the proposed constitutional amendment would be reviewed by the four political parties and the government over two parliamentary sessions. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters that each article would be voted on separately and would require 330 votes for approval, then the entire bill would be voted on. A referendum would take place 60 days after the parliamentary process is completed.

“The final decision will be given by the nation,” said Yildirim. “We are starting a process that will bring strong political power that also comes with stability.”

Bulut Emiroglu in Istanbul contributed reporting.