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Turkey local elections: Setback for President Erdogan as party set to lose capital

The AKP party also risks defeat in the country’s economic hub Istanbul.

Image: Lefteris Pitarakis via PA Images

TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has suffered a blow in the country’s local election with the ruling party set to lose the capital Ankara.

The party also risks defeat in the country’s economic hub Istanbul.

Losing Turkey’s two major cities would be a major setback for Erdogan and AKP. The party has won every vote in a decade and a half in power thanks in part to economic growth. 

This election has been viewed as a test for the AKP as an economic slowdown took hold after a collapse of the lira currency. 

With 99% of the ballot boxes counted, the joint opposition candidate for Ankara mayor, Mansur Yavas was winning with 50.89% of votes and the AKP on 47.06%, Anadolu state agency reported citing preliminary results.

In Istanbul, the race for mayor was deadlocked as the AKP candidate claimed victory with 48.70% of votes and his opponent on 48.65% also saying he had won, after almost all ballot boxes were counted there. 

The last results published by Anadolu gave the AKP a lead of just 4,000 votes. The ruling party said it planned to challenge tens of thousands of ballots it considered invalid in both of the major cities.

Speaking to thousands of supporters in Ankara, Erdogan portrayed the election as a victory for AKP, which along with coalition partner, the right wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), won more than 50% of the votes nationwide. However, he did not refer directly to the loss of Ankara.

“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them,” Erdogan told supporters.

Starting tomorrow morning, we will begin our work to identify our shortcomings and make up for them.

He suggested if his party lost in Istanbul, they would still control district councils even if the opposition held the mayor’s office.

Yesterday’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 16 years in office.

Ankara fireworks

For his supporters, Erdogan remains the strong leader they believe Turkey needs and they tout the country’s economic development over the years he and the AKP have been in power. 

However, rights activists and even Turkey’s Western allies say that under Erdogan’s leadership, democracy has been eroded, particularly after a failed 2016 coup that led to tens of thousands of people being arrested.

Much of the AKP’s success has been down to Erdogan’s perceived economic prowess, but days before the vote, the Turkish lira began sliding again, provoking memories of the 2018 currency crisis.

In Ankara, Yavas – the candidate for both the opposition Republican People’s Party or CHP and the nationalist Good Party – claimed victory in a large rally full of supporters waving red Turkish flags and setting off fireworks.

“No one has lost. Ankara has won. All of Ankara has won, hand in hand,” he told supporters.

Yavas had been slightly ahead in some recent opinion polls before the election.

Istanbul dead heat

In Istanbul, a city where Erdogan had sometimes described victory as like winning Turkey itself, the race had been very tight. 

Erdogan fielded one of his loyalists, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, in a push to win the city.

Erdogan personally campaigned hard across Turkey even though he was not on the ballot. He was often rallying in Istanbul’s districts.

“We have won the election in Istanbul. We thank Istanbul’s residents for the mandate they have given us,” Yildirim told supporters as final tallies were arriving.

But his opponent Ekrem Imamoglu dismissed Yildirim’s claim as an attempt to manipulate opinion.

“I would like to announce to Istanbul’s residents and all of Turkey that our numbers show that it is clear we won Istanbul,” Imamoglu said in a speech in the early hours of this morning.

© AFP 2019

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