Erdogan positions himself for more powerful presidential role

Rivals fear move may entrench authoritarian rule in Turkey

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to members of ruling AKP party. Photograph: Umit Bektas/EPA

Tayyip Erdogan today declared his candidacy for a more powerful presidency which rivals fear may entrench authoritarian rule but supporters, especially conservative Muslims, see as the crowning prize in his drive to reshape Turkey.

Supporters of his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party cheered, clapped and sang pro-Erdogan songs after deputy chairman Mehmet Ali Sahin announced the prime minister's widely expected candidacy in the August presidential election.

"We entered politics for Allah, we entered politics for the people," Mr Erdogan told a crowd of thousands in an auditorium in the capital Ankara, where the party faithful erupted into chants of "Turkey is proud of you".

Graft scandal

Mr Erdogan, who is hugely popular despite a graft scandal he blamed on traitors and terrorists, is very likely to win the August vote.


In so doing, he would bolster his executive powers after 11 years as prime minister that have seen him subdue a secularist judiciary and civil service and tame a once all-powerful army. He has long sought a powerful presidency to escape the vagaries and potential obstacles of the current paliamentary system.

Critics see in this a move to cast off remaining checks on his power. “They called us regressive because we said our prayers,” Mr Erdogan said in a speech dotted with references to his faith.

“They said we weren’t good enough to be a village leader, that we couldn’t be prime minister, that we couldn’t be elected president. They didn’t even deign to see us as an equal person in the eyes of the state.”

Mr Erdogan (60) offers himself as champion of a conservative religious population treated for generations as second-class citizens.

A new breed of Islamic entrepreneur has arisen. The headscarf, symbol of female Islamic piety, was seen for the first time in state institutions. Islamist rhetoric that 15 years ago won Mr Erdogan a jail term is now commonplace.

The enemy identified now in countless Erdogan speeches as “they” is a secularist establishment that dominated Turkey until he came to power. – (Reuters)