News / Europe

    Erdogan Dominates Turkey's Uneven Presidential Race

    Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul, August 3, 2014.
    Turkey's Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters during an election rally in Istanbul, August 3, 2014.
    Reuters

    Cheers erupted from the packed stands when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan scored his third goal in a celebrity soccer match to mark the opening of an Istanbul stadium.

    His orange jersey bore the number 12, a reminder of Erdogan's ambition to become the nation's 12th president in Turkey's first popular vote for its head of state, on August 10.

    After dominating Turkish politics for more than a decade, few doubt Erdogan will beat his main rival Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a diplomat with little profile in domestic politics, or Selahattin Demirtas, a young Kurdish hopeful.

    But Erdogan's opponents say it has been an unfair contest, a charge the prime minister dismisses. An Erdogan victory would concentrate more power in the hands of a man who has divided Turkish society along secular-religious lines and worried Turkey's western allies.

    While his rivals have funded their rallies mainly from donations, Erdogan has turned his public appearances, some of them state-financed, into a show of strength, from the ground-breaking ceremony of Istanbul's third airport in June to the launch of a high-speed train line in late July.

    He criss-crossed the country in the prime ministerial jet to address supporters, effectively beginning his campaign well before the July 11 start date set by the election board. Erdogan's spokesman said the prime minister had ceased using his official plane and car since tighter restrictions on campaigning came into effect on July 31.

    The election board last month rejected an appeal from the main opposition party CHP that Erdogan should resign as prime minister in order to run his presidential campaign. Erdogan points to the election campaigns run by Barack Obama and Angela Merkel while they remained in office.

    “In my opinion, Erdogan is like an athlete permitted to use illegal steroids or drugs yet permitted to compete,” said Cem Toker, head of Turkey's opposition Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) who has written extensively about Turkey's electoral system.

    “His time in power, his popularity and his charismatic appeal give him a fair advantage as an incumbent. However, his use of state funds and resources without any discretion gives him a very unfair advantage,” said Toker, whose party is backing Ihsanoglu.

    Several European delegations that have visited Turkey to observe the campaign echoed Toker's concern.

    “The campaign activities of the prime minister are large-scale events, often combined with official government events,” said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, in an interim report on July 31.

    “While other candidates actively campaign, the public visibility of their campaigns is limited.”

    An OSCE delegation noted that children's toys and women's scarves were distributed to the crowd following a speech by Erdogan in the Black Sea coastal city of Ordu on July 19.

    A spokesman for Erdogan's office said none of the premier's campaigning activities were in breach of the law.

    “The bottom line is what the law says and there is nothing being done against the law here. He has stopped using his usual vehicle and plane (since July 31),” the spokesman said.

    Media as vote winner

    A delegation from the Council of Europe, which aims to promote human rights and democracy, told Turkey's broadcasting regulator RTUK in July that there should be a clear distinction between Erdogan's speeches as prime minister and those he delivered as a presidential candidate.

    A report compiled at the request of an opposition board member at the regulator found that state broadcaster TRT devoted 533 minutes to Erdogan between July 4 and July 6. Over the same period it covered Ihsanoglu for three minutes and 24 seconds and allocated only 45 seconds to Demirtas, local media reported.

    The Council of Europe pointed to possible worrying consequences from last month's ruling by the election board that Erdogan need not resign as prime minister while campaigning for the presidency.

    “The delegation ... noted that the prime minister is not required by the law to resign but also that the use of administrative resources is forbidden by the law,” it said in a statement following its visit in July.

    “This position gives him disproportionate access to resources and media coverage, in the absence of strict regulations. The issue of misuse of administrative resources was raised on several occasions during the meetings.”

    A spokesman for Erdogan's office said all election activities were in accordance with the law.

    Turkey's electoral laws prohibit speeches and opening ceremonies for services and projects funded by the state and municipalities during the campaign period. They also impose some restrictions on using state vehicles during campaigning.

    Erdogan's candidacy was announced some three weeks before the tighter campaign restrictions came into effect on July 31. During that period he frequently addressed rallies around the country, criticizing his opponents and trumpeting his successes.

    “The taxes we as citizens pay are meant to be spent for the public's benefit. The politician cannot spend it for his own benefit,” said Sami Selcuk, a law academic and former head of Court of Appeals. “Using the prime minister's plane for campaigning obviously is against certain ethical values.”

    Turkey is in uncharted waters in holding a popular vote for the presidency for the first time. Heads of state have in the past been chosen by parliament, meaning such questions of campaign financing have not arisen in the same way before.

    New elite

    A typical election campaign would cost close to 50 million lira ($24 million), much of it spent on TV and print advertising as well as rallies, Gokhan Sen, head of campaign marketing firm Proje Yapim, told the Hurriyet newspaper recently.

    In more than a decade under Erdogan's rule, Turkey has seen a period of growth and the emergence of a new business elite, conservative and loyal to Erdogan.

    This business network and its access to private funds have added to Erdogan's head start, creating an imbalance of campaign funding, his rivals say. Erdogan has declined to comment on the funding of his campaign.

    Demirtas, who is polling a distant third in the presidential race, said he had collected some 600,000 lira in campaign donations, while Ihsanoglu said he raised more than 2 million as of last week. Erdogan's office did not provide a figure for the prime minister's campaign war chest.

    The rival candidates complained about Erdogan's domination of the Turkish media, which is largely owned by conglomerates with business ties to the prime minister's AK Party, and which has fallen in global press freedom rankings in recent years.

    Turkey fell to 154th out of 180 countries in the 2014 World Press Freedom Index, compared with 116th in 2003 when the AK Party first came to power.

    Mainstream Turkish media came under fire from government critics last summer for broadcasting Erdogan's speeches live and failing, initially at least, to cover anti-government demonstrations that were erupting around the country.

    “In 12 years, the AK Party has got more and more expert about how to censor the press, how to spread fear amongst the media,” said Esra Arsan, a journalism professor at Istanbul Bilgi University. “Practice is making censorship perfect.”

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmarki
    X
    John Owens
    June 26, 2016 2:04 PM
    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora