With his two-decade rule hanging in the balance, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pulled out all the stops on the campaign road in order to withstand his most difficult political test yet and protect his legacy from an invigorated opposition.
Erdogan, the son of a sea captain, has faced stiff political headwinds ahead of a May 14 election: he was already under fire for an economic crisis when a devastating earthquake in February left his government accused of slow response and lax enforcement of building codes that could have saved lives.
As polls show a tight race, critics have drawn parallels with the circumstances that brought his Islamist-rooted AK Party to power in 2002, in an election also shaped by high inflation and economic turmoil.
His opponents have vowed to unpick many of the changes Erdogan has made to Turkey, which he has sought to shape to his vision of a pious, conservative society and assertive regional player.
The high stakes are nothing new for a leader who once served a prison sentence – for reciting a religious poem – and survived an attempted military coup in 2016 when rogue soldiers attacked parliament and killed 250 people.
With so much at stake in the presidential and parliamentary polls, the veteran of more than a dozen election victories has taken aim at his critics in typically combative fashion.
Accusing the opposition of seeking advantage from a catastrophe, Erdogan has made several visits to the quake zone where more than 50,000 died, vowing rapid reconstruction and to punish builders who skirted building regulations.
He has peppered the election run-up with celebrations of industrial milestones, including the launch of Turkey’s first electric car and the inauguration of its first amphibious assault ship, built in Istanbul to carry Turkish-made drones.
Erdogan also flicked the switch on Turkey’s first delivery of natural gas from a Black Sea reserve, promising households free supplies, and inaugurated its first nuclear power station in a ceremony attended virtually by President Vladimir Putin.
He has enjoyed extensive coverage from mainstream media while state media has paid scant attention to his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, prompting accusations of an unfair playing field from the opposition.
His attacks against the main opposition alliance have included accusations of support from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging an insurgency since the 1980s in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
Kilicdaroglu, who was endorsed by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has responded by defending Kurdish rights and accused Erdogan of “treating millions of Kurds as terrorists”.
As he seeks to shore up his appeal among conservative voters, Erdogan has also spoken against homosexuality, describing LGBT rights as a “deviant” concept he would fight.