Erdogan Takes Lead in Local Elections

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party takes early lead in local polls, scoring a victory for the embattled PM.

Elad Benari ,

Elections in Turkey
Elections in Turkey

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have scored a victory in Sunday’s local elections, as his party took a strong lead in the polls, AFP reports.

If the national trend holds up, it would considerably brighten the outlook for Erdogan, who had gone on a weeks-long campaign marathon ahead of the vote widely seen as a referendum on his 11-year-rule.

Nationwide, his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) had a 46-27 percent lead in municipal polls over the secular main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), with a third of votes counted, CNN-Turk reported.

While the AKP was also far ahead in the Istanbul and many other cities, the race looked tight in the capital Ankara, with Erdogan's party narrowly leading at 45 against the CHP's 43 percent, according to the report.

"Results show us that Erdogan has survived these scandals with very little damage," Mehmet Akif Okur of Ankara's Gazi University told AFP.

"Voters believe that if Erdogan falls, they will fall with him. No matter how serious the corruption allegations are, the voters supported Erdogan to keep the status they have acquired under his rule," he added.

Voting day was a tense one in Turkey, with at least six people having been killed and opposition groups accusing Erdogan's government of working hard to rig the elections.

Social media outlets were flooded with pictures of opposition supporters allegedly beaten by security forces, while other activists have posted what appears to be bags of pre-stamped ballot papers for the AKP.

Erdogan has been eyeing a run for the presidency in August, the first time voters will directly elect the head of state, or may ask his party to change rules and allow him to seek a fourth term as premier, according to AFP.

Months of political turmoil have left Turkey polarized between Erdogan's Muslim conservative supporters and a secular political camp.

The premier's heavy-handed response to being challenged on the streets and online has included a police crackdown on protesters in Istanbul that left eight dead and blocks on Twitter and YouTube.

Turkey has also threatened to block access to other social media platforms if users publish recordings or documents which “threaten national security.”

Erdogan’s bans on websites have been met with harsh criticism by the United States.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the order to prevent Turks from accessing the site was "contrary to Turkey's own expressed desire to be a model of democracy."

"The United States supports freedom of expression in Turkey and opposes any action to encroach on the right to free speech," she told reporters.

Erdogan has defended the ban on Twitter, saying he had given the order to block the site because it was not obeying Turkey's laws.