“We are taking the first step towards establishing tomorrow’s strong Turkey,” Binali Yildirim told a crowd at Arena Stadium in the Turkish capital Ankara.
On April 16, the electorate will be asked to vote Yes or No to an 18-article reform bill that would give wide-ranging executive powers to the president and abolish the post of prime minister. The Yes campaign is backed by the AK Party and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Yildirim gave carnations to the crowd while entering the 40,000-person capacity sports complex, which was decorated with Turkish flags. 6,500 police officers secured the stadium and nearby streets.
The arena was also decorated with pictures of Turkey’s founding leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Yildirim. Campaign songs titled as “We say yes,” “Millions of Yes” and “Strong Turkey with Yes,” for the referendum supporting unity were also played.
A Yes campaign spotlighting progress in the economy, transportation, and health sectors as well as huge public works projects done under the AK Party government were shown to the crowd. One video featured footage from last July’s defeated coup and the bombing of the Turkish parliament.
Ankara accuses the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), led by U.S.-based Fetullah Gulen, of orchestrating last year’s coup attempt against Turkey’s democratically elected government, which left at least 248 martyrs in its wake and some 2,200 others injured.
“Change is difficult, reform is tough, but those who resist change because it is difficult, tough, or dangerous will fade from history’s stage,” Yildirim said. “Cowards would never erect a monument to victory,” he added.
Yildirim also explained 18-item reform bill to the crowd in detail.
“The constitutional change that we are taking to a public vote would complete the unfinished business that was started in 2007,” he said, referring to a constitutional referendum that year which paved the way for direct election of the president.
“In fact, an important step for the presidential system was taken in 2007,” he added.
Yildirim also said that the new bill would enable around 7.5 million Turkish young people to seek seats in parliament.
He called on young supporters in the arena to go door-to-door in Turkey’s 81 provinces to ask people to vote for Yes.
“The new system will end terrorism, wipe it out,” he pledged.
“This change is a historic opportunity for our country,” Yildirim said, adding that strong leadership would prevent Turkey from facing any repeat of last July’s coup attempt.
Yildirim said that under the new system, the economy would have a stronger, steadier, and healthier foundation.
“Thanks to stability, investments and production will rise and new job opportunities will be provided,” he said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan launched his Yes campaign on Feb. 17 in southern Kahramanmaras, one of his strongholds of support when he was elected in August 2014.
Constitutional reforms have been under discussion officially since Erdogan was elected president.
The proposals aim to 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.
The reforms would remove parliament’s power to question ministers or stage a vote of confidence on the government. The minimum age for parliamentary candidates would be lowered to 18 and the number of deputies would rise to 600.
Under the new constitution, simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections for a five-year term would be held in November 2019.
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.