Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP suffered a blow in Sunday’s local election with the ruling party set to lose the capital Ankara and risking defeat in the country’s economic hub Istanbul.
Losing Turkey’s two major cities would be a clear setback for Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) who won every vote in a decade and a half in power thanks in part to economic growth.
Erdogan portrayed the vote for mayors and district councils as a fight for Turkey’s survival, but the election was a test for the AKP as an economic slowdown took hold after a collapse of the lira currency.
With 99 percent of the ballot boxes counted, the joint opposition candidate for Ankara mayor, Mansur Yavas was winning with 50.89 percent of votes and the AKP on 47.06 percent, Anadolu state agency reported citing preliminary results.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, the race for mayor was deadlocked with the AKP candidate claiming victory with 48.70 percent of votes, but his opponent on 48.65 percent also saying he had won, after almost all ballot boxes were counted there.
The last results published by Anadolu gave the AKP a lead of just 4,000 votes and the ruling party said it planned to challenge tens of thousands of ballots it considered invalid in both of the major cities.
Speaking to thousands of supporters in Ankara, Erdogan portrayed the election as a victory for AKP, which along with coalition partner, the rightwing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), won more than 50 percent of the votes nationwide. But he did not refer directly to the loss of Ankara.
“If there are any shortcomings, it is our duty to correct them,” Erdogan told supporters. “Starting tomorrow morning, we will begin our work to identify our shortcomings and make up for them.”
He suggested if his party lost in Istanbul, they would still control district councils even if the opposition held the mayor’s office.
Sunday’s poll was the first municipal ballot since Turks approved constitutional reforms in 2017 to create an executive presidency that gave Erdogan wider powers after 16 years in office.