But few could have imagined this would extend to personally policing Turkey’s anti-smoking legislation on a busy Istanbul street.
Erdogan noticed a man smoking a cigarette on the balcony of a cafe as he visited a pedestrian street in Istanbul’s working-class Esenler district after a speech on Sunday.
All seemed to be going well as Erdogan waved to well-wishers and chatted with his entourage. But then he spotted the man smoking on a covered balcony on the second floor of a cafe, footage posted online showed.
Erdogan stopped and from the street wagged his finger at the man, telling the offender he was violating the law.
“There is a penalty for that,” Erdogan told the smoker, who was not shown in the footage.
Erdogan beckoned over the mayor of Esenler, asking: “Where are the police?” The mayor smiled, before realising the president was deeply serious.
“You know it, but this is wrong,” Erdogan said. “He blatantly behaved rudely.”
“This shameless guy is sitting there and keeps smoking even after the president tells him not to do so.”
“It’s the month of Muharram, for God’s sake!” he said, referring to an Islamic holy month.
Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbas sought to ease tensions by suggesting that the man could promise not to smoke again, but Erdogan refused to calm down and ordered the police to fine the man on the spot.
Police fined the man 90 Turkish liras ($40 or 30 euros) after Erdogan left, Turkish media said.
The authorities separately ordered the small cafe, which had violated the ban earlier this year, to pay the maximum fine of 6,000 Turkish liras ($2,600 or 2,100 euros) and threatened to shut it down “the next time”.
“Everybody has seen it. Our president has witnessed it. All the television channels have filmed it. That’s why I have we have decided to issue the maximum fine,” district governor Yuksel Unal said.
In 2009, the Islamic-rooted government introduced a law imposing a smoking ban in all public buildings, cafes, bars and restaurants, including some covered outdoor spaces.
Erdogan has long been under fire for what critics say are efforts to interfere in people’s lifestyles and imposing a creeping Islamisation on the officially secular country.
He is a tobacco hater, once declaring that the threat smoking poses is “even greater than the threat of terrorism”.
In a similar episode in July, Erdogan berated a Turkish national team youth footballer for having a tattoo on his arm, warning it could have health risks. -AFP