190401 Erdogan
Turkey's President and ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets supporters after the results of the local elections were announced in Ankara, Turkey, early Monday, April 1, 2019. Image Credit: AP

Ankara / Istanbul: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party was on track on Monday to lose control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in a stunning local election setback that could complicate the president’s plans to combat recession.

While official vote tallies and Turkish broadcasters put the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidates ahead in both cities, the Islamist-rooted AKP promised appeals that could delay the final results for days.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since sweeping to power 16 years ago and has ruled 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.

Currency crisis

But his daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage failed to win over many urban voters, as last year’s punishing currency crisis weighed heavily on Turks.

“The people have voted in favour 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.

In Istanbul, the country’s largest city and economic hub, the CHP mayoral candidate was more than 22,000 votes ahead of his AKP opponent as the last votes were being counted, according to the country’s electoral board.

Yet the AKP also claimed victory, saying it had “plenty of” evidence of voting irregularities.

In Ankara, Turkish broadcasters said the CHP candidate had won a clear victory. But the AKP said it would appeal and expected to shift the outcome in its favour.

The AKP and its Islamist predecessor have controlled Istanbul and the capital Ankara for 25 years. The results, which were still being tallied on Monday evening, would likely bring personnel changes at the highest ranks of government, according to sources inside and close to the AKP.

Erdogan’s ruling alliance, including the nationalist MHP, captured 51.7 per cent of the nationwide vote, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency. Turnout was a very high 84.5 per cent.