Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned to his roots in the working-class Istanbul district of Kasimpasa yesterday, capping a day of seven campaign rallies with a nod to his humble beginnings as he battles for Turkey’s presidency.
“I am from Kasimpasa. I was born here, raised here,” the Turkish president told tens of thousands of supporters in the district where, as a boy, he sold water and simit – a kind of sesame pretzel – on the streets to help support his family.
Turkey holds simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections tomorrow for the first time in its history.
Under election rules, campaigning is banned after 6pm (1500 GMT) today.
Erdogan is seeking to extend his more than 15-year rule in the face of unprecedented challenges from a boisterous opposition.
“Your brother, right now, is one of the longest-serving leaders at the UN General Assembly. Yes, a long time,” Erdogan said of his time in office. “We have Mr Putin along with me.”
In May, Vladimir Putin was sworn in for his fourth term as Russia’s president.
He had already been in power for 18 years and side-stepped a constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive presidential terms by becoming prime minister between 2004 and 2008.
Erdogan – who became Istanbul mayor in 1994 – was prime minister from 2003 until 2014.
When he could not contest a fourth time in line with his party’s statutes, he ran for president in 2014 – and won in the country’s first direct election for that role.
While he’s going into tomorrow’s elections as the clear favourite for the presidency, he’s no longer a shoo-in, and it remains to be seen if he can avoid a run-off.
Earlier, in his first campaign speech in Kartal, a district on the Asian side of Istanbul along the Marmara Sea coast, the president touted his administration’s development schemes and vowed to open one of his pet projects there – a free tea and coffee house.
“We have one day left, are we ready to go from door to door?” Erdogan urged the crowd, calling out especially to the women and youth.
“I trust in my people, I love my people. My people will give them [opposition] the necessary answer on Sunday,” the president added.
Erdogan touched down at Istanbul’s new airport late on Thursday amid much fanfare, with Turkey’s broadcasters dutifully switching coverage away from a major rally in Izmir by his main challenger Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“Shame on you! Shameless people!” Ince tweeted, reacting to state broadcaster TRT for not airing his address.
Ince, a former physics teacher, has energised the opposition on the campaign trail with pledges to end what he calls “one-man rule” in fiery speeches, using the same language as Erdogan.
He tweeted that 3mn people attended his rally in Izmir, a stronghold of the secular CHP on the Aegean coast.
While there were no official figures, several newspapers said more than 2mn people attended Thursday’s rally.
State-run news agency Anadolu did not provide statistics.
Both Ince and Erdogan will hold final rallies in Istanbul today.
In Istanbul’s Maltepe area in his second appearance yesterday, Erdogan praised the unfinished airport – the city’s third – where he landed the previous night.
It is major construction projects such as these – airports, stadiums, hospitals, canals and schools – that he repeatedly cites among the long list of his government’s accomplishments.
The yet-unnamed airport is set to open in 2023, and Erdogan said it would aim to become the world’s top facility with 105mn passengers.
“Why shouldn’t it be named after Recep Tayip Erdogan?” Transportation Minister Ahmet Arslan told Anadolu in an interview yesterday, adding that the president would decide the name.
Istanbul’s main airport is named for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern, secular Turkish republic.
Tomorrow’s elections will propel Turkey into an all-powerful presidential system, following a constitutional referendum in April 2017 that Erdogan narrowly won.
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