Battling graft allegations and accusations of authoritarianism, Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed victory in local elections on Sunday that were overshadowed by a government ban on social media and voting irregularities.
From power outages in provinces where Erdoğan’s Islamists were struggling to hold on to seats to opposition newspapers claiming they had come under “cyber attack” during election night, the vote was hardly the vindication Erdoğan sought twelve years into his prime ministership.
The conservative leader, who is now seen as more likely to stand in a presidential election in August, nevertheless heralded the outcome as a clear warning to his opponents, whom he has routinely described as “traitors” and “terrorists.”
“They will be brought to account,” he promised supporters in Ankara, the capital. “From tomorrow, there may be some who flee.”
The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said it would challenge the outcome in Ankara where early voting results had put its candidate ahead before a partial recount gave the candidate for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) the upper hand. No other major changes were expected in the nationwide tally which gave the ruling party 44.2 percent support, up from 39 percent in the 2009 elections.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Erdoğan had crisscrossed the country to rally his conservative core voters in the Anatolian heartland, suggesting that he was far more worried about this first electoral test for his ruling party since protests against the government began last summer than he let on.
Erdoğan had since purged thousands of police officers as well as hundreds of judges and prosecutors who were involved in corruption investigations against members of his cabinet. He blames the raids on a former ally, the religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who denies accusations that he is plotting to topple Erdoğan.
The preacher, who lives in Pennsylvania, is among the most influential Turkish opinion leaders. He shares Erdoğan’s moderate Islamism but has been critical of his foreign policy, especially Turkey’s estrangement from Israel and its support for the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. He further distanced himself from the premier last year when millions of mainly secular Turks took to the streets to protest against what they saw as Erdoğan’s dictatorial rule.
To fight what he described as a “menace” to the Turkish republic, Erdoğan blocked access to Twitter earlier this month, a microblogging service that was used extensively by critics of his regime.
Last week, access to YouTube was also denied after an anonymous account had posted what it claimed were audio recordings of Turkey’s security chiefs discussing a military incursion into Syria on the website.