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Turkey PM set to announce presidential bid

AFP , Tuesday 1 Jul 2014
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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since his Islamic-rooted party came to power in 2002, is Tuesday expected to unveil his candidacy in Turkey's first direct presidential elections.

Erdogan is widely expected to win the August 10 polls, extending his over one decade-long rule to at least 2019 and making him the country's longest serving leader since the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

A top member of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) -- expected to be its deputy leader Mehmet Ali Sahin -- is set to make the initial announcement at a glitzy ceremony at the Chamber of Commerce in Ankara followed by a speech from Erdogan himself.

Under party rules, the 60-year-old Erdogan cannot run for prime minister again when his term ends in 2015 so taking the presidency would secure his long term future in politics.

"We all believe he is the most suitable candidate" for the presidency, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a television interview late Sunday.

Any remaining mystery about Erdogan's intentions were dispelled at the weekend when President Abdullah Gul, co-founder of the party, declared that he would not seek a second term.

The election on August 10 -- followed by a second round if required on August 24 -- will be the first time ever that Turks have directly elected their president. Previously, the president has been chosen by parliament.

Often dubbed Turkey's "Sultan", Erdogan, in power since 2003, has steered his Justice and Development Party (AKP) to successive election wins, notching up a bigger share of the vote each time.

 

Hailed by supporters as the man who brought stability to Turkey after years of rocky coalition governments and an economic meltdown, Erdogan has become an increasingly polarising figure, accused of being an authoritarian bent on imposing his religious values on the country.

His stature was badly bruised both at home and abroad over his handling of mass anti-government street protests that gripped the country last year and a torrent of audio recordings implicating him and his inner circle in alleged corruption.

This was compounded by his insensitively combative response to the Soma mine tragedy that killed 301 workers.

Despite the troubles, the premier retains a strong popularity particularly among rural Turks and a decisive victory in the March local elections showed the recent crises had done little harm to his stature.

The presidency has until now been a largely ceremonial role but Erdogan has said he would exercise its full powers if he is elected, indicating that he intends to remain Turkey's undisputed number one.

Erdogan is facing competition from two other candidates -- Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu who is backed by the two main opposition parties and pro-Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas.

A survey last week indicated that Erdogan would win outright in the first round with 55.2 percent of the vote against 35.8 percent for Ihsanoglu, an intellectual whose bookish image has none of the premier's charisma.

"If he runs he will win the elections -- probably already in the first round of the elections. There is no other candidate who can really challenge him." said Michael Meier of German think-tank the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation.

But Erdogan has not left anything to chance and even before the candidacy was announced embarked on a major campaign of speeches as well as courting the votes of the Kurdish minority. 

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