Erdogan to grow more powerful as president, Turkey more polarised

Erdogan to grow more powerful as president, Turkey more polarised
People run away from teargas fired during clashes between riot police and demonstrators during a protest in central Ankara June 1, 2014.

ANKARA/ISTANBUL - On the first anniversary of nationwide protests that shook Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan's rule, barely a thousand anti-government demonstrators marched in Istanbul on Saturday.

Outnumbered by riot police, they were soon sent scurrying into side streets by tear gas and water cannon.

Their scant numbers were an illustration of Erdogan's tightening grip on power despite a year punctuated by street protests, international criticism of his response and allegations of government corruption.

Erdogan, an aide told Turkish television the same day, would remain in power until 2023, having won a presidential election that will be held in August. Changes to the constitution would bestow greater powers on the presidency, the aide predicted.

Interviews with those close to him reveal more detail about the shape of a future Erdogan presidency.

A "council of wise men" - made up partly of close allies in his current cabinet - would help oversee top government business, senior officials told Reuters, effectively relegating some ministries to technical and bureaucratic roles.

"They will work with Erdogan on important subjects in the presidential palace. You could call them wise men, an advisory council, a shadow cabinet," one senior figure in the ruling AK Party said, with energy policy, the Kurdish peace process and elements of foreign policy likely to be among them.

"The presidency's weight will be felt more in decisions."

Erdogan has yet to announce his candidacy in the August vote but has made no secret of his ambition to run. Those around him say the decision is made.

The results of municipal polls on March 30, when the AK Party won 43 per cent of the national vote, suggest a majority in the first round could be within his reach, especially if he secures the support of the Kurdish minority.

"There is no longer a question mark," a senior official from Erdogan's AK Party told Reuters. "Barring an extraordinary situation, Erdogan will announce his candidacy and we expect him to win in the first round."

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