ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish president to chair a cabinet meeting in more than a decade on Monday, furthering his drive for a stronger presidency and fuelling concern among critics that he is accumulating too much power.
Erdogan, who had already dominated Turkish politics for a decade as prime minister when he won the presidency last August, has made no secret of his desire to transform the previously largely ceremonial role.
He has made clear he believes the direct nature of August’s vote, in which he won 52 percent support, hands him more powers without constitutional changes to Turkey’s parliamentary system, enabling him to maintain his presence at the heart of politics.
Erdogan’s tightening grip has unnerved some Western allies as well as his opponents at home, who fear the erosion of checks and balances on his authority is taking Turkey further from Western standards on the rule of law and free speech.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Reuters that Erdogan was within his rights to chair a cabinet meeting and rebuffed suggestions that his own powers were being eclipsed.
“Any time he can call for a meeting, just to get a briefing, and for consultations. This is something that is normal according to the constitution and normal according to Turkish political tradition in the last 50 years,” Davutoglu said in an interview on Friday.
“In the future, if there is any constitutional change, we will see. But at the moment this is the division of power which is clear from the perspective of legality and from the perspective of political responsibility,” he said.
Aksam and other pro-government newspapers quoted Erdogan as again telling senior members of the ruling AK Party late last week that Turkey needed a full presidential system, which would require constitutional change.
The cabinet meeting is being held in Erdogan’s controversial new presidential palace, a vast 1,150-room complex on the outskirts of the capital. Presidents have chaired cabinet meetings in the past, but almost exclusively in times of crisis.
“We see no reason ... Normally, the president should explain why he wants to chair the meeting,” said Hursit Gunes, a deputy from the main opposition Republican People’s Party.
“His hunger for power is unlimited. We see a unification of powers not in the hands of an institution, but in the hands of one person,” Gunes added.
Additional reporting by Jonny Hogg in Ankara and Ayla Jean Yackley in Istanbul; Editing by Crispian Balmer