By Baris Gundogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that he has supported a presidential system for Turkey for decades, not for his own interests but for the well-being of the Turkish people.
“I am not such a low person as to want this system just for myself, [and] I do not have enough energy to fight so much just for myself,” he said in the southern Kahramanmaras province, kicking off the Yes campaign for an April 16 referendum on constitutional changes, including the shift to a presidential system.
The campaign for April’s constitutional referendum was declared open by the Supreme Board of Elections on Thursday, meaning political parties are officially allowed to campaign on the proposed changes. The referendum will ask voters to vote Yes or No to an 18-article bill.
Erdogan reiterated his criticism of the No campaigners, saying, “They are not against the system, they are actually against the Turkish people.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) plans to start its No campaign with a media blitz on Monday and rallies in major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.
Saying that he has supported a presidential system since 1994-1998, when he was mayor of the Istanbul megalopolis -- where some one-fifth of Turkey's population lives -- the president said the constitutional changes would accelerate growth in many areas.
“The presidential system is my personal project. I have insisted on this reform since I was mayor. I have fought for it and I am [still] fighting for it because I believe that this system would benefit the country and nation like other projects [we have done],” he said.
Turkish nationals overseas will be able to vote in the referendum between March 27 and April 9 at polling stations in embassies and consulates as well as at Turkish ports and airports. These votes will be tallied in Turkey on referendum night.
The political parties can campaign until 6 p.m. on April 15.
Constitutional reform has been under discussion officially since then-Prime Minister Erdogan was elected president in August 2014.
The bill of constitutional changes was passed by parliament in January, with 339 votes in favor -- nine more than needed to put the proposals to a referendum.
The proposals would hand wide-ranging executive powers to the president and abolish the post of prime minister. The president would also be allowed to retain ties to a political party.
Other changes would see the minimum age for parliamentary candidates reduced to 18 and the number of deputies rise to 600. Under the new constitution, simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections for a five-year term would be held in November 2019.