Turkey casts its votes in presidential election

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Turkey is set to appoint its 12th president since the declaration of the republic in the country’s first ever direct presidential election on Sunday.

Three candidates are running for the post, including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been the country’s prime minister since 2003 and cannot run for that post again.

The other two candidates are Ekmeledin Ihsanoglu and Selahattin Demirtas.

Ihsanoglu is the joint candidate of the two main opposition parties in parliament, the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). He also served as the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation from 2004 until 2014.

Demirtas is the leader of the leftist People’s Democratic Party and a well-known politician from the country’s Kurdish minority.

If none of the candidates gets above 50 per cent of the vote, a second round will be held on 24 August.

”God willing, a new Turkey will be established… a strong Turkey is rising again from the ashes,” Erdogan said to his supporters in his final electoral speech in the city of Konya.

Erdogan vowed to raise Turkey’s democratic standards and economic record to create a “world leader and global power.”

After dominating the Turkish political arena for more than a decade, Erdogan is barred from running for a fourth term as prime minister by his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The president already controls Turkey’s National Security Council and decides the use of military power. He is entitled to appoint judges to Turkey’s top court, which has emerged as the main institutional opposition to Erdogan’s policies.

Turkey’s foreign relations have been facing a lot of turbulence recently, damaging traditional alliances with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, due to Erdogan’s unwavering support for the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and his criticism of Egypt’s current government.

In May 2013, anti-government protests kicked off in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, and later spread to other cities. The Turkish government has been criticised over the misuse of power against demonstrators.

Criticism has been also directed to the government by Western countries over alleged violations of human rights and democracy.

Turkey is also facing the rise of jihadist fundamentalism, and is engaged in delicate peace talks with the country’s Kurdish minority.