ISTANBUL - Turkish voters are directly electing their head of state for the first time in the country’s modern history in Sunday’s election, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the hot favourite.
Here are key facts on the Muslim-majority nation that straddles Europe and Asia, in a region close to the Middle East, Caucasus, Ukraine and Russia.
GEOGRAPHY: Covering about 780,000 square kilometres (300,000 square miles), 97 per cent of which is in Asia Minor, Turkey is slightly smaller than Pakistan but larger than Chile or the US state of Texas.
It shares borders with Syria, Iran, Iraq but also EU members Greece and Bulgaria. With a Black Sea coastline facing Russia, it has been a NATO frontline state for more than 60 years.
POPULATION: 74.9 million people in 2013 (World Bank).
CAPITAL: Ankara, with a population of around five million people. Istanbul is the largest city and industrial and commercial hub with 13.8 million people.
RELIGION: Turkey is a secular state under the constitution. Of its population 99 per cent are Muslim: of these, 80 per cent Sunni, 20 per cent Alevi. Armenians and Jews comprise the largest non-Muslim religious minorities.
RECENT HISTORY: The Republic of Turkey was created as a secular state in 1923 after the collapse of the Ottoman empire at the end of World War I. Its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was president until his death in 1938. His successor Ismet Inonu introduced multi-party democracy in 1946.
Turkey witnessed repressive military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980. In 1997, an army-led campaign forced the resignation of the country’s first Islamist-led government.
Since 1984, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has led an armed rebellion in the Kurdish-majority southeast that has claimed more than 40,000 lives, but there has been a de-facto ceasefire for the past year.
POLITICS: The Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), which describes itself as a conservative democratic movement, came to power in November 2002.
Its leader Erdogan became prime minister in March 2003 and has ruled since. The AKP won nearly 50 per cent of the vote in 2011 elections.
Abdullah Gul has been president since August 28, 2007.
In 2005, Turkey began European Union membership talks, but the process is at a standstill amid a row over Cyprus and opposition to the country’s accession among EU members.
ECONOMY: Turkey is one of the most closely-watched emerging market economies. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an annualised 4.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 despite political turmoil and a sharp rise in the interest rates, according to the Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat).
The government is targeting four-per cent growth for this year, while the International Monetary Fund has slashed its 2014 growth target for Turkey to 2.3 per cent.
GDP stood at US$820.2 billion (S$1.02 trillion), while income per capita stood at US$10,950 according to the World Bank in 2013.
Tourism is a major foreign currency earner.
The year-end inflation target has been revised by the central bank upwards to 7.6 per cent, while unemployment fell to 9.2 per cent of the workforce in 2012.
ARMED FORCES: A NATO member since 1952, Turkey has more than a half million servicemen and women, making it one of the biggest members of the alliance.
Since coming to power, Erdogan’s government has reined in the powerful military, once the self-appointed guardians of the secular state.