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
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower