Tension in Turkey as PM claims victory in local vote

By bne IntelliNews March 31, 2014

bne -

With the vote count almost complete, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has claimed a clear win in the March 30 local elections, which were marred by violent clashes resulting in at least eight deaths. The victory looks likely to do little to deflate tension in the country.

Preliminary results from the election, which is widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s rule, give the AKP a clear lead with around 45% of the vote, compared to around 26% for the opposition CHP. The AKP also scored a 5% lead over the CHP in Istanbul, the centre of several large protests against the PM's religiously conservative rule over the past 18 months or so.

However, the CHP held on to main power base Izmir, while in Ankara the vote was extremely close, with both parties claiming victory. In several other cities including the capital, a final tally from Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Committee is expected on March 31.

As results arrived, Erdogan told supporters it was “the wedding day of the new Turkey,” as he spoke at AKP’s headquarters. "The people have spoken: They said we are here. The montage politics have lost. The status quo has received a severe blow today. Dirty relations and tutelage have lost," the PM claimed, according to Hurriyet Daily News.

The vote came as the PM fights an ongoing corruption scandal, which is seen linked to a US-based power broker that has fallen out with AKP. Erdogan pledged to take action against former ally turned opposition leader Fethullah Gulen and others he accuses of a smear campaign and leaking state secrets.

High security

Turnout at the polls was extremely high, with over 50m of Turkey’s 77m population said to have voted. Local media reported that some voters were still queueing when polls closed at 5pm. Security was high profile at polling stations, with over 15,000 police officers deployed in Istanbul alone. Police will also oversee the counting process, and a high security presence is expected in the days to come.

However, that failed to prevent clashes between supporters of rival candidates, resulting in at least eight deaths. Six were killed in a fight in Sanliurfa, on the border with Syria in the southeast of the country, while next door in Hatay, a feud between unaffiliated candidates saw another two killed. Larger clashes - although without deaths - between AKP supporters and those of the opposition were reported in the capital and other cities.

Meanwhile, also reflecting the high level of tension, both the AKP and opposition activists have already made accusations of vote rigging. Election day also saw several power blackouts, which have impeded the counting process. In Sanliurfa, around 500 people surrounded a polling station after the electricity failed, claiming that the power cut was a deliberate attempt to allow the count to be manipulated.

"Hopes that the election would tone down political tensions in Turkey, and produce a more conciliatory approach from Erdogan and the AKP appeared to be dashed after another firebrand "victory" speech by Erdogan," notes Tim Ash at Standard Bank. "He hinted that on the back of these local election results he will in fact run for the presidency in direct elections this summer. He also threatened to go after those who have tried to sully the image of the AKP in the media - a clear warning to the Gulenists."

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