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Turkey's Erdogan Eyes Historic Move to Presidency

Turkey will hold its first presidential election next Sunday with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking to become a powerful head of state, amid fears from critics of a shift to autocratic one-man rule.

Erdogan and his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) have led the country of 76 million people for over a decade but taking the presidency could see him serve two more five-year terms.

If he wins, Erdogan would become Turkey's longest serving ruler since its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who based the post-Ottoman state on strict principles of secularism.

The presidency has in the last decades enjoyed a largely ceremonial role, but Erdogan has vowed to revamp the post by pressing for a change in the constitution to grant the head of state more powers.

The August 10 vote marks the first time that Turks will directly elect their president - a change which Erdogan, 60, says will give the new president greater legitimacy for a more active role.

With just two other candidates standing against him, Erdogan is expected to emerge victorious. The chief uncertainty is whether he will win outright on August 10 or require a second round vote two weeks later.

The surprise choice of the main opposition parties to challenge Erdogan is Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, 70, the mild-mannered former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation whose academic demeanour is in total contrast to the combative premier.

The third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, 41, nominated by pro-Kurdish forces, will do well to break into double figures but his performance could be crucial in determining whether the election goes to a run-off.

The latest survey by the private Konda research institute predicted Erdogan would win 55 per cent of the vote, Ihsanoglu 38 and Demirtas 7.5.

A man clearly with his eye on history, Erdogan could still be in power in 2023 when Turkey celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding by Ataturk.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, said that as president Erdogan would look to control parliament, government and the judiciary.

"I think therefore he would consolidate significant amount of power and this would make him a strongman president," he said, comparing Erdogan's powers to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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