Erdogan: why is Turkey's new president such a divisive figure?

Aug 11, 2014

Promising a 'new Turkey', the former prime minister is yet to silence his critics after over a decade in power


According to preliminary results, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become Turkey's first directly elected president with almost 52 per cent of the vote in what is being called a milestone in the country's politics.

Erdogan has been Turkey's prime minister and leader of the Justice and Development Party for over a decade, but now he is set to take over as the country's  president. The role used to be largely ceremonial, but Erdogan has said he wants to increase the powers held by the president in order to create a "new Turkey."

He remains a hugely popular but extremely controversial figure in Turkish politics. As his supporters continue to celebrate his victory on the streets, we look at the man facing the overwhelming challenge of uniting a deeply polarised country. 

Why is he such a controversial figure?

Religion. His opponents accuse him of having strong Islamist leanings in the region's "most secular democracy". Many of them worry that he is "harbouring a secret agenda to turn Turkey into a religious state", Al Jazeera reports.

Censorship. He has also been criticised by human rights groups for attacks on freedom of speech after he blocked Twitter across Turkey earlier this year because of criticism and allegations of corruption being made by users of the site.

Corruption. The president has faced ongoing and widespread allegations of corruption, particularly in the run-up to the election. His opponents told the BBC that they believe he won "through chicanery, cheating, deception and trickery".

Sexism. Gulin Sonuc, a resident of the Kadikoy district told Al Jazeera she would not be voting for Erdogan because of his party's "backwards" views of women's role in society. "Erdogan once said he did not believe men and women are equal", she said. "Recently, [Deputy Prime Minister] Bulent Arinc said women should not laugh in public. Another MP once said [a] rape victim having [an] abortion was worse than the rapist. These all prove their backwards mentality".

Why has he received such strong support then?

Despite the criticism against him, Erdogan is the most popular and powerful ruler Turkey has seen since the country's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was president  in the 1930, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Erdogan has been credited with boosting the country's economy and improving standards of living. By reforming and modernising the country "faster than any of his predecessors" the people of Turkey have enjoyed "unprecedented prosperity". 

Why should the West care who's in charge?

The US and the UK have been keeping a close eye on the politics in Turkey because of its "key geopolitical position", explains the BBC's Mark Lowen in Ankara. Turkey, located in between the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, is seen as a crucial Western ally in an increasingly volatile region.

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