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Turkey Election
Profile: Recep Tayyip Erdogan
In power since 2002, Erdogan's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party, has overseen unprecedented prosperity.
Last Modified: 27 May 2011 10:49
Erdogan's background and commitment to Islamic values appeals to most of Turkey's devout Muslims [AFP]

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considered to be among Turkey's most popular and charismatic leaders.

As prime minister and leader of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), he has led the resurgence of Islamic-oriented politics in the Muslim world's most secular democracy.

His popularity has been boosted further by Turkey's near-decade of economic and political stability under AKP stewardship.

The AKP party won a landslide election victory in 2002 - and within days of the victory Erdogan had been named as prime minister.

Turkish Elections: Party list

Fifteen parties will field candidates in Sunday's elections, according to Turkish electoral authorities. Independent candidates, notably those representing the pro-Kurdish Peace and Development Party (BDP) will also stand in many areas.

Justice and Development Party (AKP)
Democrat Party (DP)
Republican People’s Party (CHP)
Labour Party (EMEP)
Nation Party (MP)
Liberal Democrat Party (LDP)
Felicity Party (SP)
Rights and Equality Party (HEPAR)
People’s Voice Party (HSP)
Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)
True Path Party (DYP)
Turkish Communist Party (TKP)
National Conservative Party (MMP)
Grand Unity Party (BBP)
Democratic Left Party (DSP)

 However, he has always faced criticism from his secularist opponents, who accuse him and the party he founded of harbouring a secret agenda to turn Turkey into a religious state.

Erdogan's past is associated with hardline Islamic views, and his party has its roots in political Islam. However, he has sought to moderate his position since coming to government.

The country's generals - the guardians of Turkey's secularist constitution - however, have viewed this apparent moderation with suspicion.

Few critics, however, would deny that Erdogan has presided over a government that has reformed and has modernised the country faster and more effectively than most of its predecessors.

The economy has grown strongly. The constitution, the police, the army and the judicial system have all been reformed.

Erdogan's AKP party was formed by a breakaway group of the Virtue Party, which was shut down by the courts in 2001 due to its "anti-secular" activities.

The prime minister has said he is committed to secularism. But, he says,  does not think it should be at the expense of Turks who want to express their religious beliefs in a more open manner.

"The essential problem is to find a way to stay united, preserving our differences", he says. "Rights and freedoms are necessary for everybody."

Mayor of Istanbul

Erdogan was born in 1954, the son of a coastguard from the city of Rize on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

He was 13 when his father decided to move to Istanbul, in the hope of giving his five children a better upbringing.

As a teenager, he sold lemonade and sesame buns (simit) on the streets of Istanbul's rougher districts to earn extra cash.

He attended an Islamic school before obtaining a degree in management from Istanbul's Marmara University in 1981 - and playing professional football.

While at university, he met Necmettin Erbakan - who went on to become the country's first Islamist prime minister.

 

Erdogan entered politics at a very young age. During high school in the early 1970s, he was elected chairman of the National Salvation Party Istanbul Youth Organisation.

After the 1980 military coup, Erdogan followed most of Erbakan's followers into the Welfare Party. He became a district chair in 1984 before advancing to chair of the Istanbul city branch. He was elected to parliament in 1991, but barred from taking his seat.

During his tenure, he developed a new organisational structure for the Istanbul Branch, which became a model for other political parties.

One of his most important initiatives, while serving in Istanbul Branch, was strengthening female participation in politics. This successful structure was credited with placing the Welfare Party in the first place in subsequent elections.

The AKP, which currently has the most female deputies in parliament, plans to expand that number for the new term. Erdogan has nominated only 146 deputies out of the 333 parliamentary seats for the ruling AKP to stand again in the elections.

Erdogan's political rise within the Welfare Party continued in 1994, when he became the mayor of Istanbul.

Imprisoned

Many feared he would impose Islamic law. However, he proved to be pragmatic in office.

Although his critics admitted that he helped make Istanbul cleaner and greener, a decision to ban alcohol in city cafes angered secularists.

 

He also won admiration from the many who felt he was not corrupt - unlike many other Turkish politicians.

His background and commitment to Islamic values also appealed to devout Muslim Turks.

However, he was given a 10-month prison sentence (of which he served four) for reading an Islamic poem in Siirt in December 1997.

The poem included the lines, "The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers..." and was considered a violation of Kemalism by the secular judiciary.

With the conviction, Erdogan was forced to give up his mayoral position. The conviction also stipulated a political ban, which prevented him from participating in parliamentary elections.

Parliamentary victory

The AKP won the 2002 elections under Erdogan's leadership, and consolidated its political dominance in local elections in 2004, becoming the biggest party in 12 out of 16 metropolitan municipalities.

In 2007, the party won again in parliamentary elections, but its share of the vote slipped to 39 per cent in 2009 local elections, attributed by analysts to a dip in Turkey's economic fortunes during the global economic crisis.

Still, Erdogan is on course to easily win a third consecutive term in elections on June 12, according to opinion polls, which show the AKP benefitting from strong economic growth and political stability.

Erdogan has promised to overhaul Turkey's constitution, written in the 1980s under military tutelage after a coup, if his party wins a strong mandate.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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