News / Middle East

Dark Horse Turkish Presidential Candidate Bridges Secular-Religious Divide

Turkey's main opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (center) flanked by Eskisehir mayor Yilmaz Buyukersen, right, and lawmaker Ruhsar Demirel visits Eskisehir, Aug. 5, 2014.
Turkey's main opposition candidate in the upcoming presidential election Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu (center) flanked by Eskisehir mayor Yilmaz Buyukersen, right, and lawmaker Ruhsar Demirel visits Eskisehir, Aug. 5, 2014.
Dorian Jones

Ekmeleddin Mehmet Ihsanoglu is not a natural politician, but rather an academic and diplomat who has headed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for the past nine years. The country's two biggest opposition parties back him to challenge Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential bid, but he is facing an uphill struggle to convince voters, including some of his own supporters.
 
"Ekmeleddin, for bread," is his campaign slogan, playing in Turkish on the similarity between the Turkish word for bread - "Ekmek" - and the candidate's first name.

In launching his campaign, the soft-spoken 70-year-old stressed that his candidacy was about bridging social and religious divisions within Turkish society.

Ihsanoglu said that, as president, he would not allow either a conservative Muslim woman wearing a headscarf or an anti-government demonstrator who participated in last year's nationwide protests to be insulted or have their rights denied.

Turkey has been wracked by tensions between the pro-secular and conservative religious sectors of society. A distinguished academic who speaks three foreign languages, Ihsanoglu is presenting himself as a bridge between the communities.

Born in Cairo to a Turkish Muslim theologian, he is both a practicing Muslim and a professor of theology. Analysts said his message of conciliation was aimed at the front-runner in the presidential race, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Analyst Sinan Ülgen of the Carnegie Europe Institute in Brussels said the two men had very different visions of the presidency.

"They will compete with a different vision of how they want to run the country, with Erdogan making it clear he will want to continue to be part of the decision-making. Whereas Ihsanoglu will stand for a less intrusive presidency much more line with the current presidency. But it's also true that Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is also at a disadvantage, given that he has low name recognition in the country overall," said Ülgen.

Like fellow candidate Selahattin Demirtas, Ihsanoglu has limited resources compared to the prime minister's well-funded campaign.

This puts Ihsanoglu at a distinct disadvantage, observers say. With state and private media sympathetic to the prime minister, it is limiting Ihsanoglu's ability to reach out to Erdogan's conservative Sunni voters,. who may be more inclined to vote for him because of his religious background.

Analyst Ülgen said Ihsanoglu was also meeting resistance from some supporters of the center-left and pro-secular Republican People's Party, or CHP, which is backing his candidacy.

"Slowly, gradually, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu is getting to be known. So some of the reservations of the more hard-core secularists and Kemalists within the CHP camp ... could disappear. But nonetheless, it will really depend on the turnout rate. If the turnout rate falls below 80-85 percent, which will essentially mean that at least some of the CHP backers did not go out and vote, then Erdogan stands a chance of winning in the first round," he said.

Some Erdogan aides are already predicting he will easily secure the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win in the first round of voting on August 10.  Despite such predictions, Erdogan has intensified his attacks on Ihsanoglu. Observers say the intensification of the prime minister's rhetoric suggest he sees Ihsanoglu as a real threat.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More