“We are saying ‘yes’ for one nation, one flag, one motherland, one state,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his opening speech at a symposium on the presidential system and transformation of the political system in Turkey, organised by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Istanbul.
Speaking on the issue for the first time after he approved the constitutional referendum on Friday, the president said the biggest assurance of the presidential system lay in the fact that it was democratic in the true sense of the word and had nothing to do with a one-man rule, which is how his critics have labelled the constitutional change.
Erdogan continued his nationalist rhetoric saying: “A ‘yes’ is for our flag, coloured by the blood of our martyrs, crowned with the crescent of independence and a star symbolising every martyr,” President Erdogan said going on to quote the final lines of a famous Turkish poem: “What makes flags flags is the blood on them. A piece of land is a country if people have died for it.”
Defending the presidential system Erdogan, referred to European forms of government and reminded his audience that monarchs in Europe did not have symbolic roles, and that only presidential systems were without monarchy.
“Man is an enemy of what he does not know. I’m convinced that those who oppose the presidential system will change their minds when they understand the spirit of it,” Erdogan said before asking, “are those who say ‘no’ aware of what they are against?”
Erdogan also said they were engaged in a systemic struggle and that this was not just about him because he was “a mere mortal.”
The president also equated the main opposition People’s Republic Party (CHP) with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) saying they were both on the same side against the change.
“Who is saying ‘no’? The PKK is saying ‘no’. Qandil is saying ‘no’,” Erdogan said referring to the Qandil mountains, the PKK’s stronghold in the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.
“Those who want to divide and rip apart this country say ‘no’. Those against our flag say ‘no’. How sad that there are those who say ‘no’ in this country, against the nation and everything that is national. Isn’t the main opposition siding with them at the moment? They are. I hope they reassess themselves until 16 April.”
Government officials and pro-government media has said constitutional change is needed to strengthen the country’s system against multiple internal and external threats, including the PKK, Gulenist movement, Islamic State and foreign governments, primarily the USA.
However this approach has been criticised by opposition groups who have accused the government of fear-mongering and polarising society between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. Recent opinion polls suggest there is little between the two camps.