Erdogan became active in politics at a young age, securing youth leadership posts in his early 20s. He was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 but forced to quit when he was imprisoned for reading a poem in public. But he rebounded and has led Turkey since 2003. His economic, political, and diplomatic successes have given him enormous popularity. But he is also controversial for reform efforts that some see as chipping away at Turkey’s secular identity.
Erdogan’s party, the AKP, was formed in 2001 out of a number of existing parties and won a two-thirds victory in its first election in 2002. It bills itself as a conservative party with Islamic roots that supports Turkish membership in the EU and a liberal market economy. It has sought to remove government policies that aggressively promote secularism, such as the ban on women wearing head scarves on university campuses.