ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition party candidate took a narrow lead in the capital Ankara in Sunday’s local elections, early results showed, with President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party leading the race in Istanbul.
Mansur Yavas of the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party had 49.1 percent of the vote in Ankara, one percentage point more than AKP former minister Mehmet Ozhaseki, with just under half of ballot boxes opened in the capital.
In Istanbul, AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim had 51.0 percent of votes after around two thirds of ballot boxes were opened, broadcaster NTV said.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years thanks in part to strong economic growth, has become the country’s most popular, yet also most divisive, modern leader. He described the vote as a matter of survival for Turkey.
With the economy contracting following a currency crisis last year in which the lira lost more than 30 percent of its value, some voters appeared ready to punish Erdogan, who has ruled with an increasingly uncompromising stance.
“I was actually not going to vote today, but when I saw how much they (AKP) were flailing, I thought this might be time to land them a blow. Everyone is unhappy. Everyone is struggling,” said 47-year-old Hakan after voting in Ankara.
As authorities again scrambled to shore up the lira over the last week, Erdogan cast the country’s economic woes as resulting from attacks by the West, saying Turkey would overcome its troubles and adding he was “the boss” of the economy.
“The aim behind the increasing attacks towards our country ahead of the elections is to block the road of the big, strong Turkey,” Erdogan told a rally in Istanbul on Saturday.
Sunday’s elections, in which Turks voted for mayors and other local officials across the country, were the first since Erdogan assumed sweeping presidential powers last year and will be a reckoning for his government, which has come under fire for its economic policies and record on human rights.
VIOLENCE MARS VOTING
The election was marred by violence in the southeast and Istanbul.
Two members of the small Islamist Felicity Party, a polling station official and an election observer, were shot dead in Malatya province, a party spokesman said. Media reports said one person had been detained.
After voting in Istanbul, Erdogan said he was saddened by the incident and that it was being thoroughly investigated. Some 553,000 police and security force members were on duty for the vote nationwide.
In the main southeastern city of Diyarbakir, two people were hurt, one of them critically, after being stabbed in a dispute between candidates, a hospital source said. Dozens of people were hurt in other election-related clashes in the southeast, media reported.
One person was stabbed as 15 people clashed in a row between candidates in Istanbul’s Kadikoy district, a police source said.
Ahead of the vote, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Iyi (Good) Party formed an electoral alliance to rival that of the AKP and its nationalist MHP partners.
The pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which Erdogan has accused of links to Kurdish militants, did not field candidates for mayor in Istanbul or Ankara, which was likely to benefit the CHP.
The HDP denies links to the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Two years ago, the state took control of about 100 municipalities from an HDP-affiliated party and some voters in Diyarbakir said services there had improved as a result.
In the days leading up to the vote, Erdogan held around 100 rallies across the country. He blasted his rivals as terrorist supporters and warned that if the opposition candidate wins in Ankara, residents would “pay a price”.
His opponents have denied the accusations and challenged his characterisation of the elections as a matter of survival.
“We’re electing mayors. What does this have to do with the country’s survival?” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP, told a rally in Eskisehir.
Additing reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans/ Dale Hudson/Susan Fenton