ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turks vote Sunday in the country's first direct presidential election. Presidents were previously elected by Parliament — apart from former Gen. Kenan Evren who was confirmed in the post in a 1982 referendum, two years after he took power in a military coup.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is widely seen as the front-runner in the race to replace Abdullah Gul, who stepped aside in favor of Erdogan. Other candidates are Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the former chief of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas.
Polls open at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).
Here's a look at Turkey's electoral process:
Some 53 million people are eligible to cast votes in more than 160,000 polling stations across the country. Close to 2.8 million expatriate Turks in 54 countries could cast early votes between July 31 and Aug 3 at Turkish diplomatic missions abroad. However, less than 250,000 people registered to do so.
On election day Turks are prohibited from carrying firearms or selling alcohol in a bid to minimize the risk of violence. Media outlets are barred from publishing opinion surveys in the 10 days leading up to the elections to prevent such polls from influencing voter decisions.
THE VOTE COUNT
Turkey has no official exit polls and it is prohibited from publishing election results until the High Election Board allows it to, usually a few hours after the polls close. Large media outlets deploy reporters at each of the polling stations who send results of the vote count back to their headquarters. Political party officials at polling stations also keep their own tallies. Initial results often vary between the outlets, causing confusion until the electoral board announces the provisional results, scheduled for Monday. The final, officials results are expected on Aug. 15.
If no candidate wins an outright majority on Sunday, runoff elections between the two top contenders will be held Aug. 24 when a plurality of votes will suffice.
Critics say the election campaign has been lopsided in favor of Erdogan, whose position has helped him dominate the airwaves. Official inaugurations of public works such as a high-speed rail link between Ankara and Istanbul turned into election rallies and his speeches were televised live in their entirety.
Delegations from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe will be observing the presidential race, which comes months after local elections in March sparked allegations of irregularities and demands for a recount in several places.
BALLOT PAPER CONTROVERSY
Ihsanoglu, who is backed by several opposition parties, has questioned why electoral authorities have printed about 18 million additional ballot papers for the vote and the OSCE has said in an initial report that the "decision on the number of ballots to be issued lacks a clear legal basis." The electoral board says the discrepancy arose because the ballot papers were printed in batches of 420. The ballot papers sent to each voting station would be in batches of 420, even if only 30 people were registered at that station.