From soaring bridges to a giant mosque to plans for the world’s biggest airport, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has used gargantuan building projects as an engine of growth and a signature way of leaving an indelible stamp on his nation.
As he campaigns for re-election on Sunday, Mr. Erdogan has promised his most ambitious project yet: a canal that would bisect the country and create a Turkish-owned trade route, which he says would make Turkey a great power and leave a legacy for the history books.
“What makes Panama is the Panama Canal,” Mr. Erdogan told supporters at a rally in Istanbul last weekend. “Suez is the biggest source of revenue for Egypt. Let’s have a vote. God willing the Istanbul Canal will be another fresh breath for our city.”
The election is shaping up as an up-or-down vote on how Mr. Erdogan has transformed Turkey during 15 years in charge. He has amassed sultanlike powers, jailed political enemies and trimmed civil liberties, even as average annual economic growth of 5 percent has spawned and nurtured a middle class.
But the most obvious way Mr. Erdogan has left his mark stands before the eyes of any visitor: grandiose monuments and infrastructure investments in just about every town.
There are signs that the public is weary of Mr. Erdogan’s building mania. The canal is the latest dividing line between those who see Mr. Erdogan’s projects as visionary, and those who say the works are guided by an insatiable construction industry that has enriched his ruling circle, raising questions about his management of a faltering economy.
Mr. Erdogan called the election a year and a half ahead of schedule, hoping to beat the economic downturn nipping at his heels. A once-fractured opposition has united against him, making it increasingly uncertain whether Mr. Erdogan will meet the 50 percent threshold to win outright and avoid a runoff against his top challenger.
Mr. Erdogan counts his building feats at virtually every election rally and warns that his opponents plan to tear down everything his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., has built. The party “built 284,000 classrooms,” he declared recently in the town of Mugla, adding “Are you going to demolish them too?”
He lists his big canal project in first place on his campaign posters. Not one shovel has been put in the ground, but Mr. Erdogan has vowed to begin construction immediately if he is re-elected as president and assumes sweeping new powers.