ANKARA, July 31 (Xinhua) -- As Turkish citizens living overseas began voting for the presidential elections scheduled for August 10, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruling party candidate, maintains his lead among all three candidates running.
But it's not clear whether Erdogan will be able to claim a victory in the first round according to polls, leaving the decisive race for the run-off elections to be held in two weeks.
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Erdogan's main challenger, is the former head of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) who has a long career as diplomat and has earned international recognition.
Ihsanoglu has been endorsed by around a dozen political parties including the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) and the third largest political party, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) , which is not well-known in Turkey.
The opposition candidate has been trying to make inroads in the election campaign through town-hall meetings, TV appearances and advertisement campaigning.
According to a June survey done by MetroPOLL, an Ankara-based polling firm, around 42 percent of people said that they will vote for Erdogan, while around 33 percent said that they will vote for Ihsanoglu.
Some seven percent said they will vote for Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas who many believe doesn't have a real shot at the presidency. TURNOUT AND UNDECIDED VOTERS ARE KEY
Undecided voters and reluctant voters are the key to winning the ticket. Some 12 percent of voters said they will not vote at all, in addition to 6.3 percent of the voters who say they have no idea who they will vote for.
According to professor Ozer Sencar, the owner of MetroPOLL, if neither the undecided nor reluctant voters participate in the elections, Erdogan will guarantee a win for presidency.
But "If all those people vote, their choices will significantly influence the result," he added.
Yavuz Baydar, political analyst, also agreed with the view that undecided voters will play significant role on how the elections will be decided.
"The gap between Erdogan and Ihsanoglu seems far too wide, and the high number of undecided voters has caused concern within the opposition camp, raising fears of a low turnout," he said.
If Erdogan wins in the first round with less than 55 percent, he would have difficulty in controlling the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. He needs to get more than 55 percent to claim a strong presidency.
"Any vote achieved that comes close to the historic backing for the referendum in September 2010 could be a game-changer in Turkish politics," Baydar commented. In the referendum, Erdogan government scored 58 percent.
In the first round of elections to be held on Aug. 10, a candidate must win by a count of at least 50-plus-one votes. In the second round, scheduled for Aug. 24, this threshold is not required. ERDOGAN SUFFERS SETBACKS
But Erdogan's image as strong leader in Turkey has been tarnished recently by the graft scanda. Four ministers in his government were forced to resign and a parliamentary investigation commission was set up to probe claims.
He also suffered a setback last year with wide spread anti- government protests in Turkey.
"Erdogan needs to escape from the corruption investigation," said Mumtazer Turkone, professor of political science.
"While we may be aware that the office of the president is an escape route for Erdogan, it in no way means we can be sure of the election results," he cautioned.
According to the constitution, the president can only be tried for crimes of high treason. He has full immunity from prosecution for any other crimes.
Erdogan has also entertained the idea of changing Turkish parliamentary system to a presidential one if he gets elected, transferring all the executive powers to president. For that to happen, he needs to maintain close grip over the ruling party leadership.
That may be easier said than done however. The ruling party does not have enough seats in the parliament to change the constitution to reflect the systemic change.
Erdogan seemed to have eased on his demand on presidential system in recent weeks.
"If Erdogan makes it to the Cankaya palace he may also be obliged to abandon his long-time aspirations of installing a presidential system in place of the existing parliamentary regime, " Lale Kemal, Turkish analyst, said, adding many speculate he is losing support.
Both corruption and anti-government protests shaved off seven percentage points from Erdogan government's popularity in the local elections held at the end of March.
Turkish citizens living abroad have already started casting votes in the presidential elections. Yet the number of people who scheduled for an appointment to cast a vote remains far below the expectations.
Only 15 percent registered in Germany, home to largest expat population in Europe out of some 2.8 million eligible Turkish voters. The situation in France and Netherlands are also similar.
But the low turnout may hurt Erdogan who is expected to score big among expat voters. TURKS ARE POLARIZED
Erdogan's harsh discourse against the opposition parties, non- governmental organizations and independent media has stirred concerns that he intentionally divides Turks to consolidate his ranks.
The Pew Research Center poll recently found that Turks evenly split on Erdogan, with 48 percent saying he has a good influence on the country and the same percentage saying he has a bad one.
Suat Kiniklioglu, political analyst, believes that Turkish domestic politics will continue to be very volatile no matter what the outcome would be.
"If Erdogan is elected, the dynamics within the AKP will busy the national agenda, but what happens inside the opposition parties is also important," he predicted.