Golcuk: Recep Tayyip’s father had big ambitions for his son. Already bearing the family name Erdogan, his father called him Recep Tayyip after Turkey’s president hoping his son would emulate his idol’s success.
Now the younger Erdogan wants to follow in his namesake’s footsteps with a foray into politics, running in March 31 elections for a village chief post in a neighbourhood of Golcuk in Turkey’s northwest.
Village chief, or muhtar, is a key post in the local elections – held every five years – when President Erdogan will look to shore up his influence at the grassroots level.
“Since I was born with this name, it is like I have a written destiny,” the 20-year-old Recep Tayyip told AFP outside his office.
When his father, a local social security administrator and admirer of the Turkish leader, named him, President Erdogan was still just the mayor of Istanbul. But he soon became an “idol” for the younger Recep Tayyip.
“With his way of addressing the world and care for people, he is one of the leaders I take as a model,” Recep Tayyip said.
Erdogan has been in power since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president. For supporters, he is a strong leader putting Turkey on the map, but critics brand him an autocrat who has eroded freedoms.
After the president’s campaign for youth to get involved in politics and reforms to lower the voting age from 25 to 18, the younger Erdogan found the courage to jump into the fray.
“I always thought about politics but I was shy, then I plucked up the courage after the election reform,” he said. “I said to myself, everyone is doing it and why not me?”
Recep Tayyip said he has not yet met the president in person. But he has plenty of memories about his name.
“At first people think I am joking and those who do not believe me, they check my identity card,” he said.
The young hopeful said he received a positive response to his candidacy, but was not free from criticism on social media platforms.
“Some say Reis (the chief, a nickname for the president) has an impostor on social media, and others say ‘they said he cannot even be muhtar, but he will become one'”.
That was a reference to the symbolic meaning the muhtar post holds for Erdogan the president.
When President Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in 1998, he was jailed briefly for reciting a poem found to be religiously motivated, considered a violation of Turkey’s secular norms then.
After his conviction, some newspapers reported that “he cannot even be a muhtar any more” — a phrase Erdogan often refers to in speeches now to show how he struggled to get to the top.
With the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) claiming to be the voice of the pious underdog in a secular system, Erdogan regularly gathers muhtars from all over Turkey at his presidential palace in Ankara since he was elected president in 2014.
He uses this as a platform to deliver political messages and inspire local leaders.
– ‘Global brand name’-
Muhtar candidates are not party affiliated in Turkey and the younger Erdogan is competing against two other individuals. Recep Tayyip said he had so far enjoyed the benefits of having the same name as the president.
“Our president is a beloved one, elected with 52.6 percent of the vote. Of course I see a better prospect of his supporters being likely to vote for me,” he said.
The only disadvantage he had with his name was abroad at passport control when he visited Germany recently.
“They are not fond of the name: it is a global brand name.”
A potato seller in the Golcuk bazaar, who identified himself as Ahmet, told the candidate: “I cannot say I like the real holder of your name but you look like a decent guy, I may vote for you.”
Recep Tayyip’s twin Talha who was born eight seconds earlier is his right-hand man and helps him with the social media messages.
“I always support him and there is certainly no jealousy between us,” he said. “We are always together, we are brothers.”
And Recep Tayyip sets his sights higher, maybe even a presidential bid of his own in the future.
“Why not? I am still young,” he said. “Why couldn’t I be president in order to serve the country after improving myself, reaching his age and being worthy of the role?”