Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory in local elections in Turkey on Sunday and warned his rivals that they will “pay the price” for allegedly plotting his downfall.
With about half of the votes counted, results broadcast on Turkish television put Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party ahead with 44-46 percent of the vote. The main opposition CHP, the party of the modern secular republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, captured around 23-28 percent, Reuters reported.
The election day was marred by violence when clashes between groups backing rival candidates left six people killed.
Four people were killed in a gun fight in the village of Yuvacik in the eastern province of Sanliurfa, which borders Syria, security officials said.
Erdogan has faced the worst crisis of his 11-year rule with the twin challenges of mass street protests last June and a wave of online leaks implicating his allies in wide-ranging corruption.
“Despite all the undesired (opposition) statements and speeches at rallies until now, our people will tell the truth today,” said Erdogan earlier on Sunday.
“What the people say is what it is,” said the 60-year-old former Istanbul mayor after casting his vote in a district on the Asian side of the megacity divided by the Bosphorus strait.
“The people’s decision should be respected.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the secular main opposition party, said that “our democracy must be strengthened and cleansed.”
“We will build a pleasant democracy,” said the leader of the Republican People’s Party, voting in a district on the city’s European side. “I trust my nation.”
President Abdullah Gul, who has a more moderate image than sometimes bellicose Erdogan, said that “we will see how the people’s will plays out,” urging everyone to accept the outcome “with maturity and respect.”
“Our nation is strong and everybody should have faith in that,” he said.
“All challenges will be tackled within the law, and Turkey will proceed in a strong way.”
Erdogan’s litmus test
More than 50 million people are eligible for voting at almost 200,000 polling stations, according to Turkey’s Higher Election Board.
Voters cast their ballots for mayors and local assemblies amid security concerns raised from both the government and the opposition.
Sunday’s elections were widely regarded as a referendum on Erdogan’s rule and his party.
Erdogan has been crisscrossing the nation of 77 million during weeks of hectic campaigning to rally his conservative core voters.
Since anti-graft raids in December, Erdogan has purged some 7,000 people from the judiciary and police targeting businessmen close to Erdogan and sons of ministers.
He blames the probe on a secretive Islamic cleric, a former ally, who he says is using supporters in the police to try to topple the government.
The AK Party, which swept to power in 2002 on a platform of eradicating the graft that blights Turkish life, hopes on Sunday to equal or better its overall 2009 vote of 38.8 percent and markets have steadied this week in expectation of such a result.
A vote of less than 36 percent, not considered likely, would be a huge blow for Erdogan and unleash AKP power struggles. A vote of more than 45 percent, some fear, could herald a period of harsh reckoning with opponents in politics and state bodies.
[With AFP and Reuters]SHOW MORE