At a campaign rally in Istanbul, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plays an animation on a huge screen to thousands of supporters, touting plans for an opera house on Taksim Square.
He paces back and forth on stage, listing his achievements for Turkey: New roads, better hospitals, more public transportation, more airports. At every rally, he hammers home the same message – he has transformed Turkey into a new modern nation.
In almost every speech, 64-year-old Erdogan disparages what he calls “old Turkey,” a place where garbage piled up on the streets, public hospitals were overrun, and roads were dimly-lit, single-lane death traps.
That message of transformation has delivered Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) 12 electoral victories over the last 16 years, making Erdogan the Turkish Republic’s longest-serving leader since it was founded in 1923.
But the President faces his toughest political challenge yet, in snap elections Sunday that Erdogan himself called. Turkish voters go to the polls to elect both a president and a new parliament, and for the first time in more than a decade, they have an array of strong candidates to choose from.
Erdogan’s grandiose rallies have become an expected part of any Turkish election, but they appear to have been eclipsed Wednesday, as main opposition candidate Muharrem Ince drew what looked like the largest crowd in the elections period yet.
In the town of Izmir, hundreds of thousands of Ince supporters in a sea of red Turkish flags stretched for kilometers down a promenade on the Aegean coast, as the charismatic former high school physics teacher promised to end the nepotism of the Erdogan government.
“Erdogan is tired, he has no joy and he is arrogant,” he said.
“On the one hand you have a tired man, and on the other you have fresh blood.”