April 16 (UPI) — Turkish voters went to the polls Sunday on granting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Erdogan cast his vote with his wife Emine and other family members at a school near his home in Istanbul.
“This April 16 referendum is not an ordinary voting [process],” Erdogan told reporters said after casting his ballot. “We have had many parliamentary elections in our history as a republic. In the meantime, we have also had referendums. However, this referendum is a decision on a new administrative system, a change and a transformation in the Republic of Turkey. I hope our people will make a decision to pave the way for a quick development. … We need to grow quicker and walk faster.”
Voters can vote Yes or No to an 18-article proposal to switch Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.
Erodgan would be able to appoint cabinet ministers, issue decrees, choose senior judges and dissolve parliament. Also, the change would lower the minimum age for lawmakers to 18 from 25, increase the number of seats in parliament from 550 to 600, close down military courts, and introduce same-day parliamentary and presidential elections every five years.
The prime minister post would be abolished after the 2019 national elections if the referendum passes. Term limits for the president would be changed and Erdogan would be allowed to remain in power until 2029.
The ruling Justice and Development Party and the Nationalist Movement Party backed the changes.
Parliament previously passed a reform bill 339-142, nine more votes than needed to put the proposal to a referendum.
Opposed to the proposals are the Republican People’s Party and the Democratic People’s Party. Critics fear the president’s position would be too powerful without the checks and balances of other presidential systems.
“We carried out a nice campaign process,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party told CNN Turk. “I am so happy. I hope the result will be good and then we will talk about the main problems of Turkey.”
More than 55 million people are eligible to vote at 167,000 polling sites between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., depending on the location in the country.
At a polling station in the southeast, two people were shot dead.
The country has been operating under a state of emergency after a failed coup last July.
The failed coup led Erdogan to crack down on his opposition, arresting 47,155 government critics, academics, journalists, military officials and civil servants.
Edogan became president in 2014 after serving as prime minister for more than a decade.
“I believe our people will walk towards the future by making their expected decisions and by casting their votes inside [Turkey] and overseas,” Erdogan said. ” I believe in our people’s common sense of democracy and that they will walk towards the future though this common sense.”