Turkish prime minister: 'Our people will tell the truth today'
Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers withering assessment of opposition parties after casting his vote in local elections
Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies
Sunday 30 March 2014 13.26 EDT
The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, voted in nationwide local elections on Sunday, and said he was confident that "our people will tell the truth today".
More than 52 million people are eligible to vote in the elections, which are the first popular test for Erdogan since last summer's large anti-government protests and allegations of massive corruption inside the Turkish government. The votes in Istanbul and Turkey's capital, Ankara, in particular, are expected to be a test of the prime minister's style of ruling.
"Despite all the undesired [opposition] statements and speeches at rallies until now, our people will tell the truth today," said the 60-year-old former Istanbul mayor after casting his vote in the capital. "What the people say is what it is. The people's decision should be respected."
Erdogan has responded ferociously to sleaze allegations that implicate his close family and high government officials, and has purged the police and the judiciary of thousands of critics. The government has also blocked Twitter and YouTube after incriminating phone conversations and government meetings were leaked on social media.
Despite not standing for election, Erdogan has campaigned tirelessly in support of his Justice and Development party (AKP) candidates. Speaking at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, he lashed out at his political opponents.
"They are all traitors," he told a cheering crowd. "Go to the ballot box tomorrow and teach all of them a lesson. Let's give them an Ottoman slap."
At a polling station in a lower-middle-class neighbourhood in Istanbul on Sunday, businessman Yusuf Dindarol, 51, said his reasons to vote for the AKP were less pugnacious. "I want stability and quiet to return to Turkey. I haven't been able to do any business since the scandals in December," he explained.
"We have tried 80 years of the [main opposition Republican People's party] CHP, and they were unable to give us the prosperity that the AKP has given us. If [the CHP] wins, the country will fall apart. I need to think economically, and there simply is no alternative to the AKP."
Despite its tarnished image, the AKP was widely expected to win the most votes. In 2009, during the last local polls, the party achieved 39% of the vote.
Ebru, 19, casting her vote for the first time, said she did not believe the corruption allegations. "I only believe what I see with my own eyes," she said. "What counts for me is the service they provide. I work very far from my house, and with the new metro line, it only takes me 30 minutes to get there."
Her parents, who also both cast their votes for the AKP, agreed. "I fully trust the prime minister and the AK party to continue their good work," said Ebru's mother. Others disagreed. "I used to vote for the AKP, because they did a good job," said Nurgül, 25, a banker. "But since the Gezi protests [last summer], my trust in them has waned. When they closed down Twitter, I decided that my vote would go to the CHP this year."
For many, their trust in fair elections in Turkey has been severely shaken, and Erdogan's divide-and-rule style to rally his religious-conservative base has led to increasing polarisation of the country, and in some cases to violence.
In the runup to the local elections, local offices of the CHP and the pro-Kurdish HDP have repeatedly been attacked. Analysts have criticised the amount of time given to the AKP on state television in comparison with its opponents, and allegations of attempts at election-rigging have circulated on social media.
Voting went ahead peacefully in most parts of the country , but fights broke out between groups supporting rival candidates in two villages near the south-eastern border with Syria. Six people were killed in a shoot-out in Sanliurfa province, while two more died in a village in Hatay, security officials said. The clashes were over local council positions and were not directly linked to the wider tensions in the country.
At a polling station in Okmeydani, dozens of volunteer monitors stood watch at ballot boxes.
"I am here to make sure everything is done right," said lawyer Cem Yanki, 25, a volunteer for the civil rights platform Öy ve Ötesi (Ballot and Beyond). "This is the first time we have such an initiative in Turkey. Why not make use of our democratic rights?"
Ayse, 60, a volunteer at a polling station in the Istanbul district of Alibeyköy, said that civil rights movements like Öy ve Ötesi gave her hope: "I came here to support my daughter and her future," she explained. "People realise that democracy requires work. We used to be lazy and uninterested, and we saw what happened then. We are to blame for that. But now we know that every vote counts, that we have to be vigilant."