By Ertugrul Subasi
ANKARA (AA) – Parliament’s general assembly Monday started debate over a landmark bill to change the country’s constitution.
Constitutional change – including the call for a presidential system – has been on the political agenda since Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the former prime minister and Justice and Development (AK) Party leader, was elected president in August 2014.
The government has said it would put the constitutional changes to a referendum, even if the proposals gain enough support to be passed by parliament.
Opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli earlier committed himself to backing the bill. However, parliament’s two other opposition parties – the People’s Republican Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – remain opposed to the presidential system.
Ruling AK Party group deputy chairman Mustafa Elitas said Monday that he was expecting at least 20 deputies from the opposition CHP to cross the aisle to vote for the proposal.
"We will see whether the CHP shows the courage to have its MPs vote" according to the party line, he said.
Elitas added that the AK Party respected main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s opposition to the bill, but called his comments on it unacceptable.
Kilicdaroglu has equated supporting the bill with treason.
MHP group deputy chairman Erkan Akcay Monday also accused the CHP of sowing more tension and conflict in Turkish society.
“The CHP has started a snowballing tension, a tension which society never deserves,” Akcay said.
But CHP group vice chair Ozgur Ozel stressed that the CHP's approach to the proposed changes has been clear from the very beginning, adding that they would put up a vigorous fight.
“Our deputies will use their votes in accordance with the rules of procedure and our Constitution,” he said.
HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen said Monday that they would argue for withdrawal of the proposal altogether from the general assembly.
Also, outside the parliament grounds, a group of people gathered to protest the proposal, but the police blocked them from chanting or demonstrating.
In the current parliamentary model, there are 550 parliamentary deputies, and a government is formed by a minimum of 276.
In the proposed presidential system, voters would cast ballots for a person to form a government independently of parliament, with no need for a vote of confidence.