Allegations of fraud and corruption do not seem to have hurt the electoral prospects of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his ruling Justice and Development Party won comfortable victories in yesterday’s municipal elections throughout the country.
The elections were interpreted as a referendum on Erdogan’s tenure that increased the deep divide between the country’s richer, more powerful Western secular classes, and the rapidly expanding Islamist presence among Turkey’s larger, Eastern middle and lower classes.
“We have the democracy the West is clamouring to have itself”, Erdogan proclaimed to supporters gathered with him Ankara. “Those who attack Turkey are left saddened,” by the results, but in an ominous warning to those he regards as his enemies, Erdogan appeared to promise more harsh repression.
“Tomorrow many will try to flee Turkey but we will pursue them into their lairs.” Erdogan considers US-based cleric and former close ally Fetullah Gullen his prime political threat and may well view his election victory as a mandate to intensify the crackdown against Gullen’s supporters inside and outside Turkey.
Normally, municipal elections in Turkey are of little national, let alone international interest. This year, however, due to the burgeoning scandal that has engulfed Erdogan’s ruling party and Erdogan’s family itself, the elections were cast in much more stark terms.
Initially, Erdogan faced allegations that he and his allies worked to crush or stop investigations into administration graft and corruption by firing scores of prosecutors and police officials thought involved in the probes. Last week, Erdogan issued edicts which were intended the ban the websites like YouTube and the social networking site Twitter that disseminated information about the allegations.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest and most important city, Erdogan’s ruling AK Party appears to have won a close victory with opposition parties claiming fraud. The results in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city in central Anatolia, are almost too close to call, but with 99.7 percent of the votes counted, the AKP are ahead by just under one percent, or 30,000 votes.
Nationwide, the AKP is thought to have won comfortable pluralities with roughly 47 percent of the national vote, far outpacing Turkey’s leading opposition, the socialist Republican People’s Party Alliance with 26 percent.
Erdogan’s party won national office in 2002 after running a campaign promising to purge Turkish politics of its endemic graft and corruption.
If the charges against him are true, Erdogan would be guilty of massively increasing that corruption. His party’s unexpectedly strong showing in Sunday’s elections will likely hasten Erdogan’s decision to run for Turkey’s newly strengthened office of President in national elections slated for this summer, promising yet another decade of divisive and strong armed rule.