Turkey’s President Erdogan back on campaign trail after illness
On Saturday, President Recep T. Tayyip Erdoan returned to the campaign trail of western Turkey in a thundering form.
The port city of Izmir was awash with flags and a large group of people who had waited hours in the hot sun. The opposition’s stronghold saw a large turnout.
No sign of his illness that caused him to miss three key events this week, just a few days before crucial elections. After twenty years of power, the presidential and parliamentary elections will be his biggest challenge after twenty years in power.
The president spoke for almost 40 minutes, in a strong voice, mocking the opposition, raising the specter of “terrorism”, and saying only he could deliver growth for Turkey. It was a combative performance that will have reassured his supporters and may have worried his detractors.
And it was vintage Erdogan.
His main rival for the presidency, Kemal Kilicdaroglu – a secular candidate backed by an alliance of six parties – will hold a rally in the same spot on Sunday. Opinion polls give a slight lead to Mr Kilicdaroglu – a softly spoken former civil servant – but the election could well be a photo finish.
The Turkish leader, who is 69, startled TV viewers on Tuesday night when he became unwell during a live broadcast, which had to be halted. He blamed it on a stomach bug.
“When I heard the news about his health, I asked God to give me his illness,” said Gurbet Dostum, a 42-year-old Mother of two. “I am ready to be in pain for him. He gives us everything.”
But many here have less and less, due to rampant inflation which is officially around 50%. Experts have blamed the President’s unorthodox economic policies, but not Gurbet. She said those who complained were “greedy and ungrateful and just wanted more and more”.
Like many women at the rally – which was segregated – she was wearing a headscarf. The president’s bedrock is religious conservatives, but there were secular supporters there too.
“He changed the country,” said Guldana, a 57-year-old with a diamond in her tooth. “Before him Turkey was a village.”
An unemployed young woman called Ayse said she would vote for Erdogan for love of her country. “He will make us rise, and get stronger,” she said.
Those who back the president want him to extend his long rule and continue with his vision for Turkey. Many Turks want just the opposite. The electorate – like the country – is divided.
Some of those who had waited hours for the president to arrive drifted away while he was still speaking.