ISTANBUL: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday said he planned to rewrite the Turkish constitution if elected president, as he outlined his vision for a booming and powerful “new Turkey” in the next decade.
In a key policy speech for his campaign for the August 10 presidential election, Erdoğan said that the “old” Turkey characterized by military coups and instability was now a “thing of the past”.
Changing the constitution would allow Erdoğan to ramp up the powers of the presidency, until now a largely ceremonial post, but which he has pledged to transform if he wins the country’s first direct presidential poll as expected.
“A new constitution on the path to new Turkey will be one of our priorities if elected president… A new constitution means a new future,” he said.
“It is indispensable to make a constitution that will meet the demands of our people,” he added.
Cheered on by thousands of supporters from his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdoğan listed targets to make Turkey one of the world’s top ten economies by 2023.
That year has huge historical importance for the country as it marks the hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the modern Turkish state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“The old Turkey is now a thing of the past,” Erdoğan said, emphasizing that all Turks would benefit from his planned changes—whether they voted for him or not.
“It is now a country where people do not wake up every morning fearing another crisis, it is a country where people have hope for the future,” he added.
The premier boasted of how he had eroded the military’s influence in Turkey and transformed the country’s infrastructure by building new roads, rail lines and a metro under the Bosporus.
“The man of the nation, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” “The leader of change,” and “Strengthen the nation’s power,” read the slogans emblazoned on a cinema screen behind him.
“Israel campaign based on lies”
Erdoğan has already served as the Turkish premier for over a decade and if elected could theoretically serve two presidential terms up to 2024.
If elected president, the Turkish strongman said he would be the “closest follower and supporter of the (peace) process” with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, which has been recently revived after years of deadly conflict.
In his “new Turkey”, Erdoğan said large ethnic and religious minorities like Kurds and Alevis— who adhere to an offshoot of Shia Islam—should feel more at home.
He also boasted of Turkey’s growing role as an international power, using his speech to denounce Israel over its aerial bombardment of Gaza that has left some 100 Palestinians dead.
“Their (Israel’s) life is based on lies. They are not honest. We cannot take the side of the cruel,” he said.
Erdoğan is expected by most analysts to easily win the presidential election, possibly in the first round, despite a turbulent year that saw the most significant protests yet against his rule.
The prime minister proudly touts his record of presiding over Turkey’s economic transformation, but critics accuse him of increasingly autocratic tendencies.
The secular opposition also fears Erdoğan is eroding the strict separation of religion and state that Ataturk made the basis of modern Turkey.
But it remains to be seen if his main opponent, the former diplomat Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu who was put forward as a joint candidate by the secular opposition, can mount much of a fight.
Ihsanoglu, a softly-spoken academic, kicked off his campaign on Thursday at an elite Istanbul Bosporus hotel by unveiling a slogan—”Ekmeleddin for bread”—that was widely lampooned on social networks.
The success of the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) will be crucial in determining if the poll goes to a second round.