A look at Turkey's presidential candidates
ISTANBUL – Associated PressTurkey is going to the polls on Aug. 10 to choose the country’s 12th president, voting for the first time by popular vote.
A candidate needs an absolute majority to win outright on Aug. 10. If none succeeds, a runoff will be held two weeks later on Aug. 24 – with victory going to the candidate with the most votes. The presidency has a five-year term.
Here is a look at the three candidates:
PRIME MINISTER RECEP TAYYİP ERDOĞAN
The 60-year-old Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the past decade, is widely expected to win – possibly even in the first round. A gifted public orator who grew up in a tough neighborhood of Istanbul, Erdoğan leads the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose support base is the Turkish heartland. He has focused his campaign on burnishing his reputation as a man of the people who engineered an economic boom, while heaping scorn on his opponents.
Erdoğan has said he favors strengthening the position of president, and has vowed to tap unused powers allowed under the current Constitution, such as the right to convene Cabinet meetings.
He is credited with bringing development and prosperity to neglected parts of the country, expanding the health care system and improving the rights of ethnic minorities such as the Kurds. He has championed the cause of devout Muslim women banned from wearing headscarves in public institutions under Turkey's secular laws.
But he has also been harshly criticized for his divisiveness and populism. He has displayed increasingly autocratic tendencies and clamped down on the media, banning – albeit temporarily – Twitter and YouTube. Many fear he will also impose increasingly religious mores on a country that has prided itself on its secular foundations.
In the past year, Erdoğan has been dogged by corruption scandals, which he dismisses as an attempted coup.
İhsanoğlu is a mild-mannered scientist and academic who served as the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) from 2004 to 2014. He is backed by about a dozen opposition parties, including the two main ones: the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP) and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). İhsanoğlu, 70, has focused his campaign on unity and inclusiveness, promising to ensure the presidency would be for all Turks.
İhsanoğlu, who speaks Arabic, English and French, was born and raised in Cairo – a fact Erdoğan has attempted to exploit by casting doubt on his “Turkishness.” As a religious man who is also a secularist, he has been considered the best option to attract voters from a wide base, including former AKP voters.
İhsanoğlu has suffered from fewer financial resources and media exposure than Erdoğan, as well as arriving on Turkey's political scene as a relative unknown.
An ambitious young Kurdish politician, Demirtaş heads the left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP). A lawyer by trade, he became involved in human rights groups in Turkey's Kurdish region and began his political career in 2007. He has focused his campaign on championing the cause of the oppressed, the poor, the young and the working classes.
Although expected to come in third place, Demirtaş has already achieved huge success by bringing Kurdish rights issues onto the national political scene, analysts say. Just a few years ago, when Kurds – Turkey's largest ethnic minority – were banned from studying their language in school and faced widespread discrimination, it would have been unthinkable for someone from the minority to be running for president.
Demirtaş is considered key in attracting the Kurdish vote away from Erdoğan, who enjoys the support of many Kurds – estimated at 20 percent of the population – for improving human rights and easing restrictions in the Kurdish regions.