Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted that his plans to assume sweeping new powers do not make him a dictator.
In an exclusive interview with CNN, Erdogan said that a constitutional reform package -- backed by a narrow majority of Turkey's voters in a referendum on Sunday -- was not about him.
"I am a mortal really, I could die at any time," he told Becky Anderson inside Ankara's presidential palace Tuesday, in his first interview since the vote.
Turkish voters on Sunday passed an 18-article constitutional reform package that will transform the country's parliamentary system into a powerful executive presidency. The plan, put forward by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), gives Erdogan sweeping and largely unchecked powers.
Erdogan rejected accusations that he supported the new powers out of a desire to empower himself rather than improve Turkey's political system. "The system represents a change, a transformation in the democratic history of Turkey," he said.
Under the revised constitution, Erdogan will be able to abolish the post of Prime Minister and assume broad new powers to rule by decree. The new arrangements give him the power to appoint a cabinet and some senior judges. The power of Parliament to scrutinize legislation is curbed.
Erdogan has already transformed a largely ceremonial office into a strong powerbase, instituting a widespread crackdown on dissent that intensified after a failed coup last year. More than 47,000 people have been arrested since the failed coup, and nearly 200 journalists are behind bars.
Erdogan denied claims that the new reforms were a step towards dictatorship. "Where dictatorships exist, you don't have to have a presidential system," he said.
"Here we have a ballot box... the democracy gets its power from the people. It's what we call national will."
The margin of victory for the "Yes" vote was razor-thin. Despite a state of emergency and a widespread crackdown on dissent, Erdogan succeeded in persuading only 51.4 per cent of voters to back the constitutional reforms.
Erdogan showed no sign of concilliation, despite of the narrowness of his victory. Invoking a sporting analogy, Erdogan said a win was a win. "I come from a football background," he said. "It doesn't matter if you win 1-0 or 5-0. The ultimate goal is to win the game."
That is unlikely to wash with opposition parties, which have promised to challenge the outcome.
The referendum was widely seen as a plebiscite on Erdogan, who has led his country through more than a decade of economic growth and development, first as prime minister and then as president.