Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AK-party) gained a substantial victory in the Turkish nationwide local elections on Sunday 30 March. Embattled Premier Erdogan has been accused of authoritarianism and corruption after a string of scandals. The local elections have become an unofficial referendum on Erdogan’s government.
With 98 percent of the votes counted on Monday 31 March, the Islamist Rooted AK-party is expected to gain 46 percent of the votes. The main opposition party, republican CHP, is expected to gain 28 percent of the votes. The Nationalist Movement Party is expected to gain 13 percent of the votes. The total voter turnout was very high, about 92 percent of the electorate came out to vote.
The main battle is fought over the two most important cities in Turkey; Istanbul and Ankara. The AK-party managed to maintain both cities. The Ankara vote came to a close call with AK-party gaining 44.8 percent and CHP 43.9 percent. AK-party also gained a majority in the southern town of Antalya, traditionally a CHP stronghold. Claiming fraud, the CHP announced to appeal the results in Ankara and Antalya.
Overall, the AK-Party dominated most of the Anatolian provinces, while the CHP won its traditional stronghold of the western coastal provinces. Southeastern Anatolia, on the other hand, was dominated by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The Supreme Electoral Board said it could take several weeks before the official results can be announced.
Claiming victory for the AK-party, Erdogan spoke to supporters on Sunday evening 30 March. "The old Turkey is no longer. The new Turkey is here. Today is the victory day of the new Turkey, 77 million united ... as brothers”. He warned his rivals they would pay for plotting his downfall. He said: ‘They will pay the price, they will be brought to account […] From tomorrow, there may be some who flee’.
Against moderate U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, whom Erdogan accuses of plotting to topple him, he said: “There will not be a state within the state. We will root them out". Responding to the accusations of corruption he said: “These poll results show more than who won, it shows who lost, immoral politics lost. Politics on tapes, on false recordings lost. Immoral and aimless politics lost”.
The stakes were high and tension rose as voting progressed. There were hundreds of allegations of irregularities and fraud, mostly against the AK-party. Analysts criticized the amount of time given to the AK-party on state television in comparison to its opponents. Clashes between supporters of rival candidates caused the deaths of 6 people. Four people got killed in a gunfight in the eastern town of Yuvacik.
The counting of the votes resulted in great confusion. The two main news agencies, the state-run Anadolu news agency and private Cihan news agency, reported different outcomes in the first hours after voting ended. The news agencies claimed a major cyber attack complicated reporting. In the confusion, officials and mayoral candidates claimed victory only to be countered by representatives of the rival parties.
Sunday’s results will come as a bitter blow to the opposition. CHP deputy chairman, Gursel Tekin, said: “It's already clear from his [Erdogan] speech this evening that he's basically threatening society”, adding: “This shows his state of mind isn't to be trusted, and these obvious threats are not something that we can accept”. Critics fear a favorable result for Erdogan would strengthen his resolve and intensify his crackdown on political opponents.
Erdogan has accused the judiciary of masterminding a series of wiretaps and social media leaks, exposing major corruption scandals in December 2013. Since then, he ordered the judiciary and police purged. In the run-up to the election, Erdogan banned Twitter and YouTube in an attempt to silence the opposition, a move widely criticized in the west. Analysts claim Turkey is moving ever further away from a western liberal democracy and EU membership.
Sources: Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, Today Zaman, World Bulletin I, World Bulletin II.