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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.