Turkish elections: Recep Tayyip Erdogan set to become the country's first elected president

Despite scandals and media crackdowns, Mr Erdogan's supporters are in positive mood ahead of poll

ISTANBUL

In the heart of an opposition stronghold, campaigners for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential bid are undeterred by scandal upon scandal. They are convinced their man will sweep to victory in today's elections, the first of their kind in Turkey's history.

"We're very positive," says Birsan Er, a 40-year-old housewife enthusiastically campaigning and handing out flyers in a Besiktas Square beside the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

The controversial Prime Minister is widely predicted to win as polls show he leads the field with the more than 50 per cent of the vote needed to gain the presidency outright in the country's first directly elected presidential race. Across Istanbul, his face is plastered over buildings. His poster appears on most street corners as he has vastly outspent his rivals.

But for many, the move from powerful prime minister to president represents a dangerous shift towards authoritarianism. Supporters of Mr Erdogan say he is just the best man for the job, having overseen a sustained period of economic prosperity.

His critics, however, point to repeated scandals that in recent years have blighted his time as Prime Minister. After leaked conversations emerged, alleging widespread corruption at the pinnacle of Turkish politics, implicating Mr Erdogan, he attempted to ban Twitter and YouTube. The act, widely seen as an assault on free speech, was later overruled by Turkey's constitutional court.

"A powerful leader means a powerful country," says Ms Er, who dismisses the now infamous comments made by Mr Erdogan's deputy, Bulent Arinc, who said Turkish women should refrain from laughing in public. "That's not a problem. That was his personal opinion, and as you can see here, there are lots of women laughing, smiling and waving flags for our beloved Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

Today some 53 million voters will choose between Mr Erdogan and the nationalist party MHP and secular CHP coalition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and Kurdish nominee Selahattin Demirtas.

The Prime Minister, who has run a campaign promising an "active presidency", will have to resign his position at the head of the government to take the reins in Ankara.

Constitutionally, the president is the head of state, and has limited governing powers. But Mr Erdogan has promised to "get sweaty" and is determined to take a larger role should he be elected.

This fits into his plan to be in power until 2023, the centenary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, around which he has based a number of controversial goals – including the construction of a gigantic third airport, a third Bosphorus bridge and a canal running parallel to the strait.

Opposition pundits fear an Erdogan victory will turn Turkey towards an authoritarian government in the style of Vladimir Putin's Russia, should the ruling AKP party nominate a weaker prime minister to take Mr Erdogan's place in parliament.

In the wake of the corruption scandal, Mr Erdogan turned on his critics, especially followers of a Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen. Hundreds of police officers and judges have been sacked for alleged membership of Mr Gulen's movement.

Last year, in Istanbul's Gezi Park, arguably the largest wave of protests in recent Turkish history was sparked by a proposal – backed by Mr Erdogan – to demolish part of the park to for a shopping centre. The government's heavy-handed crackdown on protesters led to the protests quickly spreading all over Turkey,

During the election campaign, state media has been accused of favouring Mr Erdogan. Yesterday, the editor of a leading Turkish newspaper resigned after Mr Erdogan criticised the news coverage of the paper's owner, Dogan Media Group.

In a separate incident last week, Mr Erdogan lashed out at correspondent Amberin Zaman, calling her a "shameless militant woman disguised under the name of a journalist". She was accused of insulting Islam and Muslims and told she should "know her place". Yesterday another prominent Turkish journalist, Mehmet Baransu, was detained, reportedly as part of a crackdown on dissenting journalism.

Increasing incidents like these are causing some voters to reconsider their support for Turkey's strongest leader since Ataturk.

"He doesn't represent everyone and is against the people he doesn't represent. I worry about him getting too powerful, but he is the most competent candidate for the country," said one 26-year-old hospitality manager from Besiktas.

In Besiktas, an Ekmelledin Ihsanoglu campaign bus blared out the candidate's election theme tune, a must-have for any presidential candidate. Besiktas is CHP territory, and the local office is sure the party will win at least 80 per cent of the vote in this district, despite being likely to lose today's election nationally.

"If Erdogan wins I see a very dark path to dictatorship, authoritarianism and tears," says Seckin Aybar, 23, the campaign's regional leader for Young CHP in Besiktas.

"The heavy crackdown we saw during the Gezi Park protests are just a preview of what will happen if he is elected."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?