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

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid