Turkish lawmakers brawl over constitutional changes set to expand Erdogan’s powers

Published January 12th, 2017 - 01:00 GMT
Mass brawl in Turkish parliament. (AFP/File)
Mass brawl in Turkish parliament. (AFP/File)

Turkish lawmakers got engaged in physical violence, pushing each other and exchanging blows during a round of voting on Wednesday.

The opposition lawmakers accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of breaching the law on secrecy of ballot by displaying their votes.

The move highlights the ruling party's pressure on its lawmakers to vote in favor of the amendments, and not independently, the opposition lawmakers said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP's founder, has long pushed for the constitutional amendments, arguing that a strong presidency will make Turkey stronger.

Last December, the AKP presented a bill to the parliament, which would change the country's constitution and expand presidential powers.

The package would also bring structural changes to Turkey's security system and judiciary. If adopted, the changes must then be put to a national referendum before becoming law.

The drive for the constitutional change and expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's powers come as the AKP has 317 of 550 seats in the parliament.

Calling a referendum on the constitution in Turkey requires 330 votes, which means the governing party needs more than a dozen votes from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

The Turkish legislature's second- and third-biggest parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), both oppose the intended constitutional reforms.

Critics of the constitutional changes say a presidential system heralds totalitarianism as it places too much power in the hands of the president.

On Tuesday, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the CHP, leader said the legislators who ratify the bill will be betraying the public, adding, "I call out to all citizens. If you respect what is right, you will oppose this constitution."

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