Vetoes prompt AK party to challenge president’s powers

ANKARA (AP) – Turkey’s ruling party, apparently frustrated by a series of presidential vetoes that have blocked legislation, announced yesterday that it was working on draft constitutional amendments that would curb the president’s powers. Turkey’s president is a largely ceremonial figure but has the power to veto legislation, call a referendum and appoint top officials, such as constitutional court justices. Legislator Burhan Kuzu, the head of Parliament’s constitutional committee, said he was drafting a set of amendments that would curtail the president’s powers to appoint officials and call a referendum. Kuzu is a member of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AK). The move comes as President Ahmet Necdet Sezer frustrated the cash-strapped government’s efforts to sell off deforested lands by twice vetoing constitutional amendments allowing the sales. The government has said the sales, strongly opposed by environmental groups, would raise some $25 billion. Sezer would have the right to call a referendum on the issue if the AK party-dominated Parliament goes ahead and approves the measure for a third time. The president has also vetoed several other AK party-proposed measures or sent them to the Constitutional Court for judgment. Most recently, Sezer blocked a measure that would have given poor students state scholarships for private schools. Sezer argued the measure would benefit schools run by Islamic-oriented foundations. Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country but with strict secular laws. Sezer would have to send the measure to the Constitutional Court if Parliament approves it a second time without making any changes. «For a person with few responsibilities, the president’s powers on referendum and appointments are too much,» Kuzu said. He argued that the president should not appoint constitutional court judges. «The president appoints all of its members and then launches cases in that court. This has to be changed,» he said. There was no immediate comment from the president’s office. Sezer, who is a former constitutional court judge and a strong advocate of democratic reforms, has himself said in the past that he believed the president had too many powers. Kuzu said the draft amendments could be ready by October 1, when Parliament returns after a summer recess.

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