TURKEY'S president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has held power for the past 13 years,
first as prime minister and since 2014 as president, longer than any leader other than the country's founder, Kemal Ataturk. He came a step closer to his cherished dream of one-man rule on December 10th when his prime minister, Binali Yildirim, unveiled a raft of constitutional changes that would place all executive power in Mr Erdogan’s hands. Parliament will vote on the amendments early next year. If at least 330 of 550 lawmakers endorse the package, it will be put to a referendum in the late spring. If it succeeds, it would be the most radical shakeup of Turkey’s political system since the country's reincarnation as a secular republic in 1923 after six centuries as an imperial Islamic power. What does the new charter change, and what does it mean for the country’s future?
The revised constitution would give the president new powers and scrap the office of prime minister, preventing leadership conflicts and unwieldy coalition governments of the sort that have paralysed political life in the past. But Mr Erdogan already governs without any checks, not least from Mr Yildirim, a close confidant. Under the new changes, Mr Erdogan would manage his own cabinet from his 1100-room palace in Ankara, appointing and dismissing senior officials at will. In many instances, he would be able to rule by decree. He would also have the authority to declare a state of emergency, during which his powers would be entirely unchecked. The president would serve a maximum of two 5-year terms, though a snap parliamentary vote during the second of these would make him eligible for a third. Most of the changes would kick in following presidential elections in 2019, when Mr Erdogan's current term comes to an end, making him eligible to remain in office until 2029. The launch of an impeachment investigation would require a simple majority of lawmakers in an expanded 600-seat parliament.
The odds are largely stacked in Mr Erdogan's favour. Ever since a violent coup attempt in July, he has ruled uncontested thanks to emergency powers. He has drawn strength from the trauma of the putsch, the fear of another attempt and an unprecedented wave of terror attacks, defanging the press, sacking or suspending more than 100,000 officials and locking up 40,000 others, including about a hundred journalists and dozen pro-Kurdish MPs. By pledging to wipe out the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the armed group held responsible for many of this year's attacks, including a twin bombing that killed 44 police officers and civilians outside an Istanbul stadium hours after the announcement of the constitutional changes, he has also won over a swathe of nationalist voters.
Even so, Mr Erdogan’s victory is far from assured. He may be more popular than in recent memory, but support for his executive presidency still languishes below 50%. The amendments also face opposition in parliament. To pass, they will need the votes of at least fourteen lawmakers from the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). With the party’s leader facing challenges from backbenchers, that will not be easy. The timing of the referendum may turn out to be even more problematic. The economy, one of Mr Erdogan's trump cards, has begun to run out of steam. Weighed down by a mountain of corporate debt, a credit crunch and a plummeting lira, GDP shrank by 1.8% in the third quarter of this year, the first contraction since 2009. As ruthless as he is charismatic, Mr Erdogan has not shied away from using polarisation, repression and conflict in order to retain power. What mix of these he will draw on to secure his presidency remains to be seen. Many Turks are less than eager to find out.