With his two-decade rule in the balance, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail as he battles to survive his toughest political test yet and shield his legacy from an emboldened opposition.
Surveys show opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu ahead of him in the first round of voting.
If no candidate secures more than half of the votes in the first round, a May 28 runoff will be held between the two leading candidates.
Erdogan, the son of a sea captain, has faced stiff political headwinds ahead of a May 14 election; he was already facing blame over an economic crisis when a devastating earthquake in February saw his government being accused of a slow response and lax enforcement of building rules that may have saved lives.
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.