Sunday, 10 August 2014

Landmark presidential poll under way in Turkey

Turkey's presidential candidates, L-R: Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Selahattin Demirtaş & Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 

Turkey heads to the polls today as they elect their own president for the first time in the republic’s 91-year history. Nearly 53 million citizens are eligible to vote for one of three candidates: Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Selahattin Demirtaş.

165,108 polling booths opened at 8am for voting and will close at 5pm. If none of the candidates receives above 50% of the vote, a second round will be held on 24 August.

Pre-election polls show Erdoğan as the clear favourite and many expect him to win in the first round. The 60-year-old politician has been Prime Minister of Turkey since 2003 and is credited for turning the country into a regional powerhouse. During his 11-year reign, Turkey has enjoyed significant economic growth and political influence.

However, in recent years he has also become regarded as one of the most divisive figures, adored by his supporters yet deeply resented by opponents, such as secularists and minority groups, for his increasingly brusque and arrogant style of governing. Critics fear that should he win, he will seek to consolidate his power by turning Turkey’s current ceremonial post of president into the country's executive head.

During the election campaign, Erdoğan has also received widespread criticism for exploiting his current status as PM. He has been able to dominate coverage on state television, as well as use his office’s considerable resources for the benefit of his campaign, including travelling in the PM’s aircraft to speak at election rallies around the country and abroad.

The stronger of his two opponents is 70-year-old Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, an academic and former ambassador who served as the head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation between 2004 and 2014. Noted for his diplomatic style, Turkey’s elder statesman is widely respected in Turkey’s increasingly tumultuous region. İhsanoğlu is backed by the two main opposition parties CHP and MHP, as well as key minority groups such as the Alevis – a branch of Islam that is rooted in spiritual Shia and Sufi beliefs. 

The youngest presidential candidate is 41-year-old Selahattin Demirtaş. Of Kurdish origin, he heads the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and is backed by its sister party BDP, which Demirtaş previously headed. A lawyer by profession, Demirtaş has been at the forefront of championing Kurdish self-determination rights and since entering politics, has been regarded as a progressive voice. His party has been vocal in supporting LGBT rights and enforces gender equality by having a 50% quota for women.

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