Turkish Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, Binali Yildirim greets supporters on February 25, 2017 in Ankara, as he arrives for a campaign meeting to promote support for an April referendum on whether to boost the Turkish president’s powers. On April 16, 2017, the Turkish public will vote on whether to change the current parliamentary system into an executive presidency. / AFP PHOTO / Adem ALTAN
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim urged Turks to say “yes” to boosting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers on Saturday, saying it would strengthen Turkey at the ruling party’s first pro-referendum rally.
The event in Ankara sports arena was held ahead of the April 16 referendum when the Turkish public will vote on whether to approve constitutional changes creating an executive presidency.
“For a strong Turkey, lasting stability, our choice is ‘yes’. This is our wish, it will come,” Yildirim said, addressing party members and supporters who had come from across the country’s 81 provinces.
Ahead of his arrival, the crowd had been rallied by recordings of campaign songs with lyrics saying a “yes” vote would be a tribute to the “July martyrs” killed during last year’s failed coup, and saying the changes would ensure a fair judiciary and respect opposing sides.
When Yildirim arrived, he began handing out red carnations to the audience.
Last July’s coup featured heavily in a video screened ahead of his speech, with images of the victims also appearing on banners held by the audience.
The premier insisted no one would be forced to back the changes, which the government says are necessary for political harmony but which critics fear will create one-man rule.
– ‘Grand master’ Erdogan –
“There is no creating fear,” he told the excited crowds.
“We want a willing yes.”
Turkish media said some 6,500 police officers were deployed in and around the arena where heavy security was in evidence.
In the arena, there were thousands of people, including many young women, most of whom were waving Turkish flags — noticeably there were no AKP flags — or carrying banners, including one praising “grand master” Erdogan.
The heavy focus on encouraging young people to vote “yes” could be seen everywhere in the arena, with one large banner saying: “Turkey’s issues are young people’s issues.”
Ahead of the referendum, “we will go square-to-square, street-by-street, door-by-door, and we know what we will say for change, don’t we?” Yildirim said.
“Yes” roared the crowd.
Under the new constitution, the president will have strengthened executive powers to directly appoint top public officials including ministers.
The post of prime minister would be replaced with one or more vice presidents.