Turkey’s Governing Party Wins City Races

11:30, 30 March 2009
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The governing party...

The governing party, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won a narrow victory in nationwide municipal elections on Sunday, preliminary results showed, but registered declines in a number of major cities, according to New York Times.

By late evening, the CNN-Turk news channel was reporting that Mr. Erdogan’s party, Justice and Development, led with 39.13 percent of the vote, while the main opposition, the Republican People’s Party, had 22.83 percent, and the nationalist People’s Action Party had 16.22 percent.

The elections were seen as a referendum on the performance of Turkey’s politicians, in particular that of Mr. Erdogan, a former Islamist who has pressed for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

Early results seemed to send a message: Mr. Erdogan’s party was winning by much narrower margins than in 2007, when it garnered 47 percent of the vote. Many attributed the decline to the economic downturn and to allegations of widespread corruption among members.

The Justice and Development Party also benefited in 2007 from political tensions that had led many Turks to vote for its candidates, said Mithat Sancar, a law professor at Ankara University.

“Today’s political atmosphere is much calmer,” Mr. Sancar said. The narrower margins for Mr. Erdogan’s party on Sunday, he said, “show that the political scene in Turkey is becoming real and normalized.”

Justice and Development was running neck and neck with the secular opposition party in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, and Istanbul, cities it won with comfortable margins in 2007.

The nationalist People’s Action Party, on the other hand, raised its share of the vote from 14 percent in 2007.

Justice and Development appeared to have lost key cities that Mr. Erdogan had campaigned hard to take, like Izmir, Adana and Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast.

That city has traditionally voted for candidates from Turkey’s Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party, a choice that seemed likely to hold true for this election, despite Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to woo it.

Free refrigerators, washing machines and other household goods were distributed by the offices of Justice and Development Party-appointed governors in some cities, a practice that the opposition criticized as bribery and the Senior Electoral Board eventually banned.

Five people died and more than 90 were injured in skirmishes at election stations in remote provinces of mainly eastern Turkey, the Anatolian News Agency reported. More than 48 million people in Turkey cast votes to elect mayors and municipal assemblies in 81 provinces.

Early in his first administration, Mr. Erdogan was aggressively pushing Turkey’s European Union bid. But in recent years the effort seems to have foundered. Mr. Erdogan has been embroiled in battles with his opponents, including Aydin Dogan, a billionaire publisher whose newspapers are sharply critical of the prime minister, and a large cast of former generals and others whom prosecutors accuse of plotting to overthrow Mr. Erdogan’s government.

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