Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party, the AKP, has lost control of the capital, Ankara, in local elections, in a blow to his 16-year rule.
According to figures published by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the main opposition party, the CHP, is also slightly ahead in the contest for mayor of Istanbul.
The AKP party is challenging the result in both cities.
Municipal elections were held across Turkey on March 31 and an AKP-led alliance won more than 51% of the vote.
The elections, considered a verdict on President Erdogan’s rule, have been taking place during an economic downturn.
Following the vote’s preliminary results, Turkish lira has been losing value recently and the economy went into recession in the last three months of 2018.
The AKP – Justice and Development Party – alleges “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”.
AKP’s general secretary Fatih Sahin said on Twitter: “We will use our legal rights to the fullest, and we will not allow the will of our citizens to be altered in Ankara.”
The party says it will also challenge the result in Istanbul – the largest city – and the eastern province of Igdir.
Commenting on the results in a speech on March 31, President Erdogan looked ahead to national elections in 2023: “We have a long period ahead where we will carry out economic reforms without compromising on the rules of the free-market economy.
“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them.”
More than 57 million voters were registered to vote for mayors and councilors. Turnout was high at just under 85%.
According to officials, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Mansur Yavas won in Ankara. With almost all votes counted, he was on nearly 51% and the AKP’s Mehmet Ozhaseki had won the support of just over 47%.
Both CHP and the AKP claim victory in Istanbul, which has been in the hands of parties linked to President Erdogan since 1994, when he was elected the city’s mayor.
The election commission said the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu was leading there by less than 0.5%, but that the results of more than 80 ballot boxes were being challenged. Results carried by Anadolu news agency put the margin even narrower, at less than 0.25%.
The AKP had been saying its candidate, former PM Binali Yildirim, was ahead by 4,000 votes. He later conceded his opponent had a narrow lead, only for the AKP to again claim victory.
The third largest city, Izmir, went to the CHP.
This was the first municipal vote since Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed sweeping executive powers through last year’s presidential election.
The AKP, with its roots in political Islam, has won every election since coming to power in 2002.
President Erdogan, whose two-month campaign included 100 rallies, said the poll was about the “survival” of the country and his party.
With most media either pro-government or controlled by President Erdogan’s supporters, critics believe opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rallies dominated TV coverage.
The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said the elections were unfair and refused to put forward candidates in several cities.
Some of the HDP’s leaders have been jailed on terrorism charges, accusations they reject.