World Bulletin / News Desk
The polls have closed in the Turkish local elections and the first results have started coming in.
So far, there have been no major surprises, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party way ahead in the lead across the country.
The AK Party's closest rivals, CHP, have failed to oust the ruling party in the hotly contested race for Istanbul, where it is estimated that around one in five Turkish citizens live. As the most populated city in the country, Istanbul is considered to be the most important seat, as it is host to communities from every city.
AK Party took slightly over half the votes in Istanbul with candidate Kadir Topbas on 49.4%. His rival Mustafa Sarigul from CHP took 38.51% of the votes. Third place right-wing MHP took 4.04% of the votes in Istanbul.
AK Party are also in the lead in the capital city Ankara as well as most other provinces.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday's bitterly contested local elections would affirm his legitimacy in battling graft allegations and security leaks he blames on "traitors" within the Turkish state.
The municipal elections have become a crisis referendum on Erdogan and his AK Party after weeks of scandal he has cast as a "dirty campaign" of espionage to implicate him in corruption and topple him after more than a decade in power.
Early results broadcast on Turkish television, with less than a fifth of votes counted, put the AKP ahead with around 47 percent of the vote. AKP needs to exceed its 2009 result of 38.8 percent to assert Erdogan's authority for a power struggle certain to continue after the polls.
With the count continuing across Turkey, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, stands at 28 percent; the conservative National Movement Party, or MHP at 13.28 percent; and the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, at 2.79 percent.
"Once the ballot boxes are opened, the rest is only footnotes to history," Erdogan said as he voted in Istanbul.
"Today it is what the people say which matters rather than what was said in the city squares," he told reporters, as supporters chanted "Turkey is proud of you" outside.
Voting passed off peacefully in most parts of the country, although clashes over local council positions killed eight in two separate shoot-outs in villages in the southeastern provinces of Hatay and Sanliurfa near the Syrian border.
The level of support will be crucial for the future cohesion of his party - giving a measure of the effect, if any, the graft scandal has had on his popularity - and will influence his own decision on whether to run for the presidency in August.
Turkey's elections authority has said the final results of the local polls across the country should be problem-free.
"Results published by political parties may be different than those broadcast on television," Sadi Guven, head of the electoral authority YSK, said late on Sunday. "We have yet to announce the official results. I do not think that there will be a problem with the polls results."
The Turkish government, led by three-term Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, views both of last year's protests and the graft investigations as attempts to topple it.
For these -- and a flurry of wiretapping leaks since late last year -- Erdogan holds responsible a "state within the state", comprising the followers of a U.S.-based Turkish preacher allegedly in cahoots with unspecified foreign elements.
Gezi Park protesters have been mostly defined as being a highly visible group of young protesters apparently disgruntled by Erdogan's 12-year rule in a country where they thought the state of rights and freedoms could be taking a turn for the worse.
The Turkish government's recent moves to block access to Twitter and YouTube, ostensibly to prevent the spread of potentially damaging wiretapping leaks, have faced international criticism, but appear to have failed to dent the AK Party's popularity.
Last Mod: 31 Mart 2014, 00:50