Deaths mar local elections linked by Turkey’s president to national survival

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Deaths mar local elections linked by Turkey’s president to national survival

The high stakes of the local contests were brought into stark relief with the deaths of two members of the Islamic-oriented Felicity Party.


A boy kisses the hand of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside a polling station (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)
A boy kisses the hand of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan outside a polling station (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Scattered violence, including the deaths of two volunteers from a small party, have marred municipal elections in Turkey deemed by president Recep Tayyip Erdogan as critical to national survival.

Economic prosperity has previously delivered Mr Erdogan and his party election victories and these polls are seen as a gauge of his support amid an economic downturn.

The party could lose key posts in the mayoral elections taking place in 30 large cities, as Turkey copes with a weakened currency, a double-digit inflation rate and soaring food prices.

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Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves the polling booth (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

The high stakes of the local contests were brought into stark relief with the deaths of two members of the Islamic-oriented Felicity Party, a small rival of the president’s Justice and Development Party.

Felicity’s leader, Temel Karamollaoglu, alleged a polling station volunteer and a party observer were shot by a relative of a ruling party candidate.

The killings were not caused by “simple animosity”, but happened when the volunteers tried to enforce the law requiring ballots to be marked in private voting booths instead of out in the open, Mr Karamollaoglu alleged.

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Voters arrive at a polling station in Diyarbakir (Stringer/AP)

Speaking to reporters after he had voted, Mr Erdogan said he was sad about the deaths and did not want them to become a cause for “a questioning or a judgment between political parties”.

Fights related to local elections in several provinces also produced dozens of injuries, Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported.

At least 21 people had been injured in southeastern Diyarbakir province from brawls over the election of neighbourhood administrators, Anadolu said.

The exact causes of the fights remained unclear.

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A man walks by a Turkish flag and a poster showing Mr Erdogan in Ankara (Ali Unal/AP)

Election campaigning was highly polarised, with Mr Erdogan and other officials using hostile rhetoric towards opposition candidates.

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Sunday’s elections were a first test for Mr Erdogan since he won re-election under a new system of government that gave the presidency expanded powers.

Mr Erdogan’s ruling party has renewed an alliance with the country’s nationalist party to increase votes.

Opposition parties also coordinated strategies and put forward candidates under alliances in an effort to maximise the chances of unseating members of the Justice and Development Party, known in Turkish by the acronym AKP.

A main battleground appears to be the capital, Ankara. Opinion polls suggested the candidate of the opposition alliance, Mansur Yavas, could end the 25-year rule of AKP and its predecessor.

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Mansur Yavas talks to the media after casting his ballot (Burhan Ozbilici/AP)

A former government environment minister, Mehmet Ozhaseki, ran for mayor under the banner of Mr Erdogan and his nationalist allies. The ruling party accused his opponent Mr Yavas of forgery and tax evasion.

Another closely watched mayoral election is in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. Mr Erdogan began his rise to power as its mayor in 1994 and said at campaign rallies that “whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey”.

Mr Erdogan named former prime minister Binali Yildirim to run against opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in the Istanbul mayor’s race.

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Binali Yildirim, former prime minister and AKP mayoral candidate for Istanbul (Akin Celiktas /DHA/AP)

Before the elections, Mr Erdogan campaigned tirelessly for AKP’s candidates, framing the municipal elections taking place across Turkey as matters of “national survival”. He also portrayed the country’s economic woes as attacks by enemies at home and abroad.

Mr Erdogan’s party has threatened not to accept election results in southeast Turkey if pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party candidates with alleged “terror” links win.

Since 2016, Mr Erdogan’s government has replaced elected mayors from the pro-Kurdish party in nearly 100 municipalities, installing in their place government-appointed trustees and alleging the ousted officials had links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

The pro-Kurdish party is seeking to win back the offices. But it strategically sat out critical mayoral races in major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, with the aim of sending votes to a rival secular opposition party to help challenge Mr Erdogan’s party.

Since the previous local elections in 2014, Turkish citizens have gone to the polls in five different elections. In last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, Mr Erdogan garnered 52.6% of the votes and his party and its nationalist ally won 53.7% of the parliamentary vote.

Press Association

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