ISTANBUL: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan voted in nationwide local elections yesterday, and said he was confident that “our people will tell the truth today”.
More than 52 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, which are the first popular test for Erdogan since last summer’s large anti-government protests and allegations of massive corruption inside the Turkish government. The votes in Istanbul and Turkey’s capital, Ankara, in particular, are expected to be a test of the prime minister’s style of ruling.
“Despite all the undesired [opposition] statements and speeches at rallies until now, our people will tell the truth today,” said the 60-year-old former Istanbul mayor after casting his vote in the capital. “What the people say is what it is. The people’s decision should be respected.”
Erdogan has responded ferociously to sleaze allegations that implicate his close family and high government officials, and has purged the police and the judiciary of thousands of critics. The government has also blocked Twitter and YouTube after incriminating phone conversations and government meetings were leaked on social media.
Despite not standing for election, Erdogan has campaigned tirelessly in support of his Justice and Development party (AKP) candidates. Speaking at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, he lashed out at his political opponents. “They are all traitors,” he told a cheering crowd. “Go to the ballot box tomorrow and teach all of them a lesson. Let’s give them an Ottoman slap.”
At a polling station in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood in Istanbul, businessman Yusuf Dindarol, 51, said his reasons to vote for the AKP were less pugnacious. “I want stability and quiet to return to Turkey. I haven’t been able to do any business since the scandals in December,” he explained. “We have tried 80 years of the [main opposition Republican People’s party] CHP, and they were unable to give us the prosperity that the AKP has given us. If [the CHP] wins, the country will fall apart. I need to think economically, and there simply is no alternative to the AKP.”
Despite its tarnished image, the AKP was widely expected to win the most votes. In 2009, during the last local polls, the party achieved 39% of the vote.
Voting went ahead peacefully in most parts of the country , but fights broke out between groups supporting rival candidates in two villages near the south-eastern border with Syria. Six people were killed in a shoot-out in Sanliurfa province, while two more died in a village in Hatay, security officials said. The clashes were over local council positions and were not directly linked to the wider tensions in the country.