All along Istanbul’s boulevards, the face of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looms large. For 16 years he has ruled over his country, victorious in election after election, vowing every time that Turkey is on the path to reclaiming its status as a great power in the Middle East and beyond. Turkey’s largest city is home to a variety of grandiose projects that channel this vision. In October, the government is scheduled to complete work on Istanbul’s third airport, which will serve 90 million passengers a year. A project to bypass the Bosphorus with new 28-mile (45km) waterway linking the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea – a project first proposed in the 16th century – will cost billions of dollars. Turkey is less than a week away from arguably its most important elections in modern history. The victor in the presidential race will assume an office with extraordinary powers, which were narrowly approved in a referendum last year, and rule until 2023 – the centennial of the republic’s founding from the ashes of the Ottoman empire.
Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party faces the prospect of losing its majority in parliament, but the 64-year-old, who has sought to position himself as a leader of the Muslim world as well as his country, is predicted to retain the presidency. He remains Turkey’s most popular and powerful politician despite an unexpectedly dynamic opposition.
“He’s a really great leader,” said Rumeysa Kadak, an AK parliamentary candidate likely to become the country’s youngest MP. “We can see that there is great pain in the world, and he is the leader to say the world is bigger than five [the permanent UN security council members], to say ‘stop’ to the world, and he’s the first person to say that.”