By Baris Gundogan and Enes Kaplan
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey's justice minister has argued that a long-debated constitutional change would "strengthen the parliament" as well as "judicial independence".
Bekir Bozdag, speaking in a live TV interview on Wednesday, discussed the ongoing parliamentary voting for changes in the current constitution, which dates back in parts to Turkey’s military regime of the 1980s.
Lawmakers adopted the first two items of the constitutional reform package on Tuesday.
The items concern the exercise of judicial power and an increase in parliament seats, respectively. Sixteen more amendments proposed by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party will be voted in parliament.
In Tuesday’s first secret ballot, 347 of the assembly’s 550 lawmakers voted in favor while 132 rejected the motion and 66 were absent.
It changes the ninth article of the Constitution -- "the judicial power shall be exercised by independent courts on behalf of the Turkish Nation" -- to read "independent and impartial courts".
Bozdag said it was difficult to say currently that "the legislative and the executive [were] completely independent".
"Now, they will be independent," he said, adding a real "separation of powers" would be established with the new system.
The second item of the package increases the number of lawmakers from 550 to 600 in accordance with the rising population.
"Does it weaken or strengthen the parliament to increase the number of deputies to 600?", Bozdag asked and rejected claims from the opposition parties that the proposed changes would render parliament inefficient.
A total of 480 lawmakers took part in the second ballot. It passed with 343 votes in favor, 133 against, one abstention, two blank ballots and one invalid vote.
Bozdag announced that he also voted a "Yes".
"I think that adopting the presidential system would be good for a strong government, strong legislation and a strong Turkey," he said.
He said the parliament would "apparently" pass the entire constitutional reform with votes ranging between 340 and 350.
The AK Party has 316 seats and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) -- which has so far supported the constitutional change -- has 39 seats. The "yes" votes from the two parties will be enough to secure a referendum.
Parliament’s other parties -- the Republican People's Party (CHP), which has 133 seats, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), with 59 deputies -- remain opposed to the presidential system in the package.
The government hopes the talks will result in a referendum in which the option of replacing Turkey’s parliamentary system with a presidential model will be put to the electorate.