Erdogan to chair cabinet in unprecedented move

Turkish president expands powers, aims to rewrite constitution after parliamentary elections

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014  (photo credit: AFP/ADEM ALTAN)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ADEM ALTAN)

ANKARA, Turkey — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday announced he would chair a cabinet meeting in January, a move unprecedented for a Turkish head of state in recent times.

Erdogan, a pious Muslim accused of authoritarianism by critics, led the Turkish government from 2003 to 2014 as prime minister but in August this year won the first ever direct presidential elections to become head of state.

Previous presidents — including Erdogan’s predecessor and one-time close comrade Abdullah Gul — performed a largely ceremonial role but the office has been transformed in the four months since he took charge.

Chairing the cabinet meeting is a hugely important step in a clear drive by Erdogan to enshrine the presidency as Turkey’s number one job, both in theory and in practice.

Erdogan told reporters that he would host the meeting of the cabinet on January 19 at his vast and controversial new presidential palace in the Bestepe district of Ankara.

“I will gather the cabinet ministers on January 19 at Bestepe and will chair the cabinet meeting there,” he said in televised comments, emphasizing this was allowed by the constitution.

It will be the first time Erdogan has chaired the cabinet since being elected president. Gul did not chair cabinet meetings when in office.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) co-founded by Erdogan is aiming for a thumping majority in June parliamentary election so it can change the constitution and formalize the president’s powers.

Erdogan promised to be an active president during the election campaign in the summer, saying this was justified by the fact that he was being chosen by the people.

He has since been true to his word, clearly leading Turkish policy on every issue from the Syria conflict to the economy.

However his opponents fret that Turkey is lurching to one-man rule under Erdogan, who could theoretically stay in power until 2024.

The giant new presidential palace, which according to Erdogan has 1,150 rooms, was built at a cost of around 490 million euros ($615 million) and has become a symbol of official excess for his opponents.

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