ISTANBUL (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan will put his two-decade rule on the line on May 14 when he faces opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Turkey's landmark elections, which surveys suggest will be tight.
Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK Party counts the nationalist MHP as its main ally. The secularist CHP and five other parties form an opposition alliance that is expected to get support from the main Kurdish party HDP, giving it an edge in some polls.
Following are descriptions of key figures in the presidential and parliamentary elections:
PRESIDENT TAYYIP ERDOGAN
Erdogan, 69, rose to power 20 years ago as Turkey emerged from a period of rampant inflation, promising sound government after the coalition of the time was accused of mismanagement. At the height of his success, Turkey enjoyed a protracted economic boom with rising living standards for its 85 million people.
Turkey's longest-serving leader logged more than a dozen election victories and survived an attempted coup in 2016. He has shaped the country to his vision of a pious, conservative society and assertive regional player, even as critics say he has wielded the courts to crack down on dissent.
The May vote could be Erdogan's toughest test to date after his years of unorthodox economic policies sparked a cost-of-living crisis. After devastating earthquakes in February, opponents blamed his government for a late response and for letting constructors flout rules that could have saved lives.
CHP LEADER KEMAL KILICDAROGLU
Kilicdaroglu, 74, head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was named the opposition alliance's presidential candidate in February. Stuck in Erdogan's shadow throughout his career, he has failed to close the gap with the AKP in parliamentary elections since he took the center-left CHP's reins in 2010.
An earnest and sometimes feisty former civil servant, Kilicdaroglu entered parliament in 2002 with the CHP, a party established by modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk which has struggled to reach beyond its secularist grassroots towards move conservative Turks.
Yet polls show that Kilicdaroglu's time may have come. His profile rose in 2017 when he led an opposition march from Ankara to Istanbul to protest the jailing of one of his lawmakers. Later he spearheaded the formation of an alliance with the nationalist-centrist IYI Party, which helped them win municipal elections in Istanbul and Ankara in 2019 in a shock to Erdogan.
HOMELAND PARTY LEADER MUHARREM INCE
Former physics teacher and headmaster Muharrem Ince, 58, is seen as having little chance of becoming president. He came to prominence during his 16 years in parliament with combative speeches challenging Erdogan, and was the opposition's main presidential candidate in 2018. He won 30.6% of the vote behind Erdogan's 52.6%, but attracted right-wing voters beyond the CHP'S secular, Western-oriented base.
Before that he twice lost out to Kilicdaroglu to head the CHP. In 2019 he resigned from the party, citing a lack of internal democracy and disagreements over foreign policy and founded the Homeland Party.
Sinan Ogan, 55, also has little prospect of victory. A former academic who established the think tank TURKSAM, he entered parliament in 2011 with the far-right MHP. He launched an unsuccessful bid for leadership of the MHP in 2015 and was subsequently expelled from the party. He declared his presidential candidacy last month without joining or forming another party.
MHP LEADER DEVLET BAHCELI
Ultranationalist leader Devlet Bahceli, 75, has helped Erdogan keep his grip on power after supporting his bid to switch to an executive presidency in a 2017 referendum. Previously a staunch opponent of Erdogan, Bahceli's Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) began to work with the president and his AKP after a 2016 attempted coup. The closer ties were forged during a surge in violence between Turkey's military and Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants. A hatred of the PKK and a hardline stance against pro-Kurdish parties is a key part of Bahceli's discourse.
IYI PARTY LEADER MERAL AKSENER
Former interior minister Meral Aksener, 66, leads the second-largest party in the opposition alliance, the centrist and moderately nationalist IYI Party. She has risen to greater prominence since 2016, when she was expelled from the MHP party after mounting an unsuccessful bid to oust Bahceli. She appeals to conservative voters and those disenchanted with the MHP's alliance with the AKP. She has pressed for a return to the parliamentary system which was replaced in 2018 with a presidential one under Erdogan.
After initial opposition to Kilicdaroglu's candidacy, she returned to the alliance after convincing Kilicdaroglu that the Istanbul and Ankara mayors would serve as vice presidents if the opposition wins the May presidential election.
FORMER HDP LEADER SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS
Former leader of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, 49, remains a key political figure despite being in jail since 2016. Polls suggest the oppositon alliance needs support from the HDP to defeat Erdogan. In recent months Demirtas' Twitter account, with more than 2 million followers, had called for Kilicdaroglu to be the opposition candidate.
Demirtas was previously sentenced to three years in prison for insulting the president and now faces a potential life sentence in a trial with more than 100 other HDP politicians accused of instigating 2014 protests in which dozens died.
DEVA PARTY LEADER ALI BABACAN
Babacan, 55, is an ex-deputy prime minister and former close ally of Erdogan who quit the AKP in 2019 over differences about its direction. He formed the Deva (Remedy) Party and urged reforms to boost the rule of law and democracy. A former economy and foreign minister, he was well regarded by foreign investors.
FUTURE PARTY LEADER AHMET DAVUTOGLU
Davutoglu, 64, a former prime minister and foreign minister, broke with the AKP in 2019 and established the Gelecek (Future) Party. In the first decade of AKP rule he championed a less confrontational foreign policy with the mantra "zero problems with neighbours", and has since criticised what he describes as a lurch towards authoritarianism under the executive presidency.
ISTANBUL MAYOR EKREM IMAMOGLU
After five years as CHP mayor of an Istanbul district, former businessman Ekrem Imamoglu, 52, rose to prominence in March 2019 when he defeated the AKP's candidate in the Istanbul municipal election. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2022 for insulting public officials and faces a political ban if the ruling is upheld.
ANKARA MAYOR MANSUR YAVAS
Nationalist politician and lawyer Mansur Yavas, 67, defeated the AKP's Ankara mayoral candidate 2019 as the CHP candidate backed by an opposition alliance. Previously he served for 10 years as the nationalist MHP mayor of an Ankara district until 2009. He left the MHP and joined CHP in 2013.
(Reporting by Daren Butler, Ali Kucukgocmen and Huseyin Hayatsever; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)