Turkish president Erdogan at heart of election campaign

Tayyip Recep Erdogan is ubiquitous in politics. Picture: Getty
Tayyip Recep Erdogan is ubiquitous in politics. Picture: Getty
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Turkey’s president has broken with tradition by putting himself at the heart of his country’s election campaign

Tayyip Recep Erdogan is supposed to be the invisible man in the upcoming vote, constitutionally bound to remain above the fray, but instead it has been all about him.

The overarching drama of the election has been whether Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will win a strong enough majority to change the constitution and put him at the unquestioned pinnacle of Turkish politics in a new presidential system.

But the chances of an AKP landslide appear to be fading, and the surge of the country’s main Kurdish party could effectively block the 61-year-old from achieving his ambitions.

If the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, reaches the threshold of 10 per cent of the total vote required to take seats in parliament as a party, it would make it almost impossible for AKP to reach the supermajority in parliament required to call a referendum on constitutional change.

Mr Erdogan took a big gamble when he announced last year that he would seek the presidency in the country’s first direct vote for the largely ceremonial post, rather than lead his party into the election as premier.

He bet that after moving into the presidential palace, he could then make the position powerful with an expanded majority in parliament. That now looks to have been a rare miscalculation for a man who has dominated Turkish politics since his party came into power in 2002.

Rather than sit back and watch, Mr Erdogan has thrown himself into the campaign, remaining ubiquitous in the political conversation, on television and at political rallies thinly disguised as part of his presidential duties.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the putative campaigner-in-chief, has been a pale shadow in comparison.

“I am at an equal distance to all parties, but of course there is a party that is close to my heart,” Mr Erdogan said in rally after rally as he led a fierce campaign, shrugging off criticism that he is in breach of constitutional impartiality.

An increasingly authoritarian leader who shows little tolerance of the mildest of criticism has himself poured scorn upon the opposition, calling its leaders clowns and fascists, and accusing Kurdish party leaders of terrorism.

He has waved the Koran at rallies despite laws against using religion in campaigning.

Under leader Selahattin Demirtas, a 42-year-old former human rights lawyer, the HDP has expanded its appeal beyond Turkey’s Kurdish regions, attracting leftist and liberal voters.

Voters will go to the polls on Sunday.