Erdogan to chair Turkey cabinet for first time as president

Erdogan to chair Turkey cabinet for first time as president
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

ANKARA - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will on Monday chair a cabinet meeting for the first time as head of state, in a move seen by the opposition as a sign of his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Erdogan, who took the presidency in August elections after over a decade as premier, will chair the cabinet meeting from 11:00 am (9:00 GMT) at his own hugely controversial presidential palace on the outskirts of Ankara.

The Turkish president has the right under the constitution to chair cabinet meetings, which are usually overseen by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

However Erdogan's two predecessors in the presidential job -Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Abdullah Gul- performed largely ceremonial roles and never chaired a government meeting.

The last president to do so was Suleyman Demirel, who served as head of state from 1993-2000. Erdogan will just be the sixth Turkish president in the history of the modern republic founded in 1923 to chair a cabinet meeting.

Erdogan transformed Turkey in over a decade as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, winning plaudits for speeding up development and growth but also facing accusations of imposing a creeping Islamisation and authoritarianism on the country's secular democracy.

New type of president

The August elections were the first time a Turkish president has been directly elected by the people and Erdogan insisted he now has a popular mandate to be an active and powerful leader.

In recent years, Turkish presidents have performed a largely ceremonial and overseeing role, with power resting with the prime minister and parliament.

But in barely half a year in office, Erdogan has transformed the role, making clear that the president is Turkey's number one on all the major issues, including foreign policy.

However the opposition had accused Erdogan of acting increasingly like an autocrat, building up his own "shadow cabinet" in the presidency with powers to rival those of ministers.

Monday's meeting comes at the start of a key year for Turkey which will in June vote in legislative elections where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking a big majority to write a new constitution that will enshrine Erdogan's powers as president.

Critics say that civil and media freedoms have eroded further in Turkey during Erdogan's half year as president, which has been marked by an all-out-offensive against supporters of his arch foe, the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

He has also raised eyebrows with some increasingly outlandish statements, claiming that Muslims discovered America before Columbus and saying women are not equal to men.

Erdogan's promotion of a strong presidency is symbolised by the vast presidential palace which opened last last year and he says is needed as a symbol of a powerful "new Turkey" but opponents say is another sign of authoritarian excess.

Previously, Turkish presidents from the founder of the modern republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk worked in the far more modest Cankaya palace in downtown Ankara.

The new palace has 1,150 rooms and was built at a cost of around 490 million euros ($615 million).

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