A man rides a bicycle past a campaign poster of Turkish Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on August 8, 2014, in Istanbul. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSE
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For the first time in its history, Turkey is directly electing its president Sunday in a contest considered a turning point for the country of 76 million people – with its prime minister the strong favorite for a job he has pledged to transform from a symbolic role into one of real power.Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's dominant politician over the last decade, is seen by many as aiming to solidify his grip on power after serving three consecutive terms as prime minister at the head of his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party. Erdogan already tried and failed to change the constitution to give the presidency more clout.Erdogan's two challengers are Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a 70-year-old academic who enjoys the support of nearly a dozen opposition parties, including the main republican and nationalist parties; and Selahattin Demirtas, 41, a Kurd who heads a left-leaning party and has already made a name for himself on the minority Kurdish political scene.Demirtas is expected to trail in third place, but could be instrumental in potentially leading the election to a second round by attracting part of the Kurdish vote away from Erdogan.
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