Turkish president Erdogan chairs 1st Cabinet meeting amid accusations of power-grab



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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's president on Monday convened a Cabinet meeting for the first time, a political maneuver that is raising concerns among critics that he is pushing ahead to expand the powers of the largely ceremonial presidency.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the past decade as prime minister and was elected president in August, has set his sights on turning the parliamentary system into a presidential one, giving the head of state more executive powers.

He has been pushing for a constitutional change to usher in a presidential system — a difficult task that would depend on whether the ruling party can win enough seats in elections in June for the constitutional shift.

In the meantime, Erdogan insists that as the first president to be elected by the people and not by parliament, he has a mandate to exercise more powers.

On Monday, he invoked a rarely used presidential power to call and preside over a Cabinet meeting, usually chaired by the prime minister.

Opposition parties say the president can call a Cabinet meeting in exceptional conditions only and accuse Erdogan of overstepping his powers and seeking greater involvement in the running of the government.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters at the end of the Cabinet meeting that Erdogan could chair more meetings in the future but added these would not be "routine."

"Our president will use his constitutional powers whenever there is a need," Arinc said.

Erdogan, who has displayed increasingly authoritarian tendencies, has raised the number of directors at the presidency from four to 13, leading to assertions that he had created his own "shadow Cabinet."

Arinc rejected the claims, saying: "We would want to benefit from our president's assessments, but decisions are taken by our government."

Turkish media have reported a rift between Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu over his decision to chair the meeting. But Davutoglu told reporters last week that the constitution granted the president certain powers and that it was "natural" for Erdogan to preside over the meeting.

The last time a president chaired a Cabinet meeting was in 2000 when then President Suleyman Demirel, who was ending his seven-year term, chaired a meeting to bid farewell to the ministers.

Erdogan held the meeting at his new 1,150-room palace in Ankara, which he inaugurated in October.

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