Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AKP party appeared on Sunday to be heading for a clear victory in local polls that have become a referendum on a prime minister facing corruption scandals and security leaks he blames on “traitors” embedded in state bodies.
With about half of votes counted, results cited on Turkish media put his Islamist-rooted AK Party ahead with 44-46 percent, the main opposition CHP with 23-28 percent. If that result were borne out, Erdogan might claim at least for now to have ridden out the biggest challenges to his 12-year rule.
Erdogan said the election results would reaffirm his legitimacy after a turbulent election campaign which has seen his government tighten its grip on the courts, purge thousands of police, and block access to Twitter as it tried to stem a flow of graft allegations.
“Once the ballot boxes are opened, the rest is only footnotes to history,” Erdogan said as he voted in Istanbul. “Today it is what the people say which matters rather than what was said in the city squares.”
The races were close in the two biggest cities of Istanbul and Ankara, but the ruling party appeared to have the edge, with AKP supporters honking their car horns in celebration in the capital. Two buses of riot police stood ready in Istanbul’s Nisantasi neighborhood, one of several districts rocked by anti-government protests last summer.
A strong showing could embolden Erdogan to run for the presidency in an August election. Some fear it could also feed authoritarian tendencies and herald a period of harsh reckoning with opponents in politics and state bodies.