ISTANBUL, March 31, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Turkey voted in local elections on
Sunday in a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his ruling party
risking defeat in the capital as an economic slowdown takes hold.
Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won every vote
since the party first came to power in 2002 but this time, analysts say the
party could lose Ankara and even Istanbul.
Sunday’s poll was the first municipal ballot since Turks approved
constitutional reforms in 2017 to create an executive presidency that gave
Erdogan wider powers after a decade and a half in office.
But Erdogan, whose ability to win continuously at the ballot box is
unparalleled in Turkish history, appears more vulnerable with the country’s
economy in recession, unemployment up and inflation in double digits.
Much of the AKP’s success has been down to his perceived economic
prowess, but days before the vote, the Turkish lira was sliding again,
provoking memories of the 2018 currency crisis that badly hurt Turkish
Erdogan, who began his own political career as Istanbul mayor,
campaigned hard across Turkey, often with several rallies a day, even though
he is not on the ballot.
Looking to rally his base among conservative Turks, the president cast
the election as a matter of survival, attacking opposition candidates by
branding them as linked to PKK Kurdish militants.
“The economy is terrible,” said Husnu Acar, 53, after voting in a school
in Beylikduzu on the outskirts of Istanbul.
“They are the ones with a survival problem,” he said of the AKP.
Voters are to elect scores of mayors, municipal councils and other local
officials. Preliminary results are expected soon after polls close with
official results released early in the week.
Two members of Saadet (Felicity), a religiously conservative party, were
killed after an attack by an AKP candidate’s nephew in a polling station in
Malatya, eastern Turkey, Saadet chairman Temel Karamollaoglu said on Twitter.
The two men, one of whom was also an election observer, died after a
fight between two groups in Puturge district, private DHA news agency
reported. The Malatya governorate said four individuals were detained.
Erdogan said the incident was “upsetting” after he voted in Istanbul,
and he called Karamollaoglu shortly afterwards to offer his condolences, the
– Charges of an unfair vote –
For his supporters, Erdogan remains the strong leader they believe
Turkey needs and they tout the country’s economic development over the 16
years he and the AKP have been in power.
But rights activists and even Turkey’s Western allies say that under his
leadership, democracy has been eroded, particularly after a failed 2016 coup
that led to tens of thousands of people being arrested.
“The economy isn’t doing so good for sure, but I have confidence in our
president and things will be better after the election,” said Koksal Karacan,
a retiree voting in Istanbul’s Kasimpasa, where Erdogan grew up.
The vote will be the first time since 2002 that the AKP is fielding
candidates with its alliance partner, the rightwing Nationalist Movement
The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to
field candidates in several cities, saying the elections are unfair. Some of
its leaders have been jailed on terror charges, accusations they reject.
The HDP criticised the detentions of candidates and its members in the
run-up to the vote in a statement on Sunday, accusing the government of
trying “to paralyse the HDP organisationally, and render the playing field
even more uneven”.
Critics say that with most media either pro-government or controlled by
the president’s supporters, opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage
because Erdogan’s daily rallies dominated TV coverage.
“What has happened during the campaign for Sunday’s local elections is
unprecedented and demonstrates that — unlike during its first years in power
— the AKP is no longer confident of being able to win a fair election,” said
Gareth Jenkins, a non-resident senior research fellow at the Silk Road
– ‘Boss of the economy’ –
In Istanbul, the country’s biggest city and its economic hub, Erdogan
has fielded one of his loyalists, former prime minister Binali Yildirim.
But in Ankara, Mansur Yavas — the candidate for both the opposition
Republican People’s Party or CHP and the nationalist Good Party — might have
a stronger chance of winning, according to recent polls.
With inflation at just under 20 percent and unemployment at a near 10-
year high in December, Erdogan has sought to reassure voters about the
“I am the boss of the economy right now as the president of this
country,” Erdogan told a rally on Saturday.
Turkey’s finance minister, Berat Albayrak, who is Erdogan’s son-in-law,
said economic reforms would be announced the week of April 8.