Who supports Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s presidential poll and why?
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Turkey’s conservative Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fighting to become the country’s first-ever directly elected president. He faces two opponents – secularist Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu and Kurdish left-winger Selahattin Dermitas. Despite last year’s massive protests against his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, Erdogan is ahead in the polls. So who are his supporters?
Kasimpasa is the working-class neighbourhood of Istanbul where Erdogan was born and brought up, later going on to enter politics and become the city’s mayor and then prime minister.
It stretches downhill from the Recep Tayyip Erdogan Stadium, built in the prime minister’s honour four years ago, to the Bosphorous Straits that busy waterway that joins the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.
On narrow streets men sit drinking tea or Turkish coffee, playing board games and chatting.
They all say they support the native son.
“I will vote for Erdogan because we are from the same place and he’s made good jobs and he has brought Turkey growth,” explains Tolga, a new technology worker.
He points to the infrastructure projects – roads, metros, tramways and airports that have been realised under AKP rule.
Erdogan’s opponents accuse him of an Islamist agenda of undermining Turkey’s secular constitution, of authoritarianism and of corruption.
But Turkey has experienced over five per cent growth every year since 2002, so jobs have been created for working-class people and the middle class has seen its living standards rise.
At the AKP’s local campaign office, housewife Rukiye, her hair tightly wrapped in a dark scarf, speaks up for her candidate.
“He is with the poor people and he keeps his word,” she declares.
The party doesn’t have to do much campaigning around here, she says, “Five-year-olds show love for Recep Tayyep Erdogan.”
The AKP organised a massive rally for Erdogan in Istanbul at the weekend.
Rukiye dismisses alleged proof of corruption on leaked tapes that appear to show Erdogan, his family and allies trying to cover up dodgy dealings.
“It’s all lies,” she exclaims with some vigour. “They say it is a montage – they cut them and edited them. All I can say is it’s all rubbish.”
Most Turks are patriotic to the point of paranoia and Erdogan’s backers claim that, as prime minister, he has put the country on the world’s diplomatic map, declaring support for the Palestinians, backing revolt against Bashar al-Assad in Syria and proposing a model of democratic Islamism for the Muslim world.
“He is leading Turkey very well and in the last 12 years the international view of Turkey has changed and we’re so grateful to our prime minister,” says Hakan, an unemployed man sipping tea by the Bosphorous. “For our country a powerful leader means a powerful country.”
Turkey is a politically polarised country and Erdogan supporters are as fervent as his opponents.
If the opinion polls are to be believed, they’re likely to win him the presidential election.
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