ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would comfortably win the August presidential election if he decides to run, according to two local polls which give him a 20-point lead over his nearest challenger.
The vote will be the first time that Turkey has directly elected its head of state. Erdogan, who has dominated political life for more than a decade, has made little secret of his desire to be president.
If he assumes the presidency he is expected to exercise existing presidential powers to a much greater extent than incumbent President Abdullah Gul, whose role over the past seven years has been largely ceremonial.
His ruling AK Party will not announce its candidate until next Tuesday but Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Wednesday it will almost certainly be Erdogan.
A survey conducted by Turkish pollster Genar predicts Erdogan would win 55.2 percent of the vote, with Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the joint candidate of the country’s two leading opposition parties, on 35.8 percent.
A second poll conducted by MAK Consultancy put Erdogan on 56.1 percent and his rival on 34.2 percent, the pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah reported on Thursday.
Both polls have Selahattin Demirtas, the expected candidate for Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, on less than 10 percent.
Erdogan would need at least 50 percent to win outright in the first round on Aug. 10, and avoid a potential second round run-off which could see opponents of his divisive style attempt to rally behind a single candidate.
Turkey’s abrasive premier has endured one of the most challenging periods of his political career over the last year, facing down widespread anti-government protests last year, and having to deal with growing concerns over the security situation in neighboring Iraq and Syria, and a corruption scandal that has swirled around his inner circle.
However, a strong showing for the ruling AK Party in local elections in March has buoyed his supporters.
Last week the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) said they had agreed to nominate Ihsanoglu, who stepped down in December as head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as their joint candidate for the race.
Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Ayse Sarioglu; Editing by Daren Butler and Susan Fenton