ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan suffered stunning setbacks in local elections as his ruling AK Party lost control of the capital Ankara for the first time since the party’s founding in 2001, possibly complicating his plans to fight back recession.
Both the AKP and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claimed victory in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic hub. The AKP said it had “plenty of” evidence of voting irregularities in Istanbul.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power 16 years ago and ruled his country with an ever tighter grip, campaigned relentlessly for two months ahead of Sunday’s vote, which he described as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.
But his daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage failed to win over voters in the two main cities, as last year’s punishing currency crisis weighed heavily on Turks.
“The people have voted in favor of democracy, they have chosen democracy,” said opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, whose secularist CHP also held its Aegean coastal stronghold of Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city.
The AKP and its predecessor have controlled Istanbul and Ankara for 25 years. The results, which were still being tallied and faced appeals, would likely bring personnel changes at the highest ranks of government, according to sources inside and close to the AKP.
In Istanbul, the county’s largest city, the CHP mayoral candidate was more than 25,000 votes ahead of his AKP opponent as the last votes were being counted, according to the country’s electoral board and CHP data.
But AKP Istanbul provincial head, Bayram Senocak, said voting irregularities had had an impact on the outcome and insisted that Erdogan’s party had won.
In Ankara, Turkish broadcasters said the CHP candidate had won a clear victory, but the AKP said it would appeal in districts across the city and expected to shift the outcome in its favor.
Erdogan’s ruling alliance, including the nationalist MHP, captured 51.7 percent of the nationwide vote with nearly all votes counted, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency. The turnout was a very high 84.52 percent.
Despite eking out majority support across the country, defeat for Erdogan’s party in Ankara was a significant blow for the president. The possibility of losing Istanbul, where he launched his political career and served as mayor in the 1990s, was an even greater shock.
The Turkish lira, which swung wildly tmsnrt.rs/2CEaO11 in the week ahead of the elections echoing last year's currency crisis, weakened on Monday as much as 2.5 per cent against the dollar before recovering early losses.
An AKP official and a source close to the party predicted a cabinet shuffle or other changes among those around Erdogan, especially given the loss in Istanbul.
“There will certainly be changes in some places, such as Erdogan’s close circle in the party and the cabinet,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“Markets expect that there will be a change in the cabinet. This makes a change necessary.”