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Turkey's ruling party leads local elections but loses Ankara

Published
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leaves the polling booth during local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Mayoral elections are underway in 30 large cities in Turkey along with other municipal races Sunday that are seen as a barometer of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn in the nation straddling Europe and Asia. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party led Sunday's mayoral elections but suffered setbacks as the opposition regained hold of the capital Ankara and made significant inroads in other parts of Turkey. The elections, which the Turkish strongman had depicted as a fight for the country's survival, were largely seen as a test of his support amid a sharp economic downturn.

Both the ruling party and the opposition claimed victory in the neck to neck race in Istanbul.

Erdogan's conservative, Islamic-based Justice and Development Party, or AKP, took 44 percent of the votes in the elections after 99 percent of the more than 194,000 ballot boxes were counted, according to the official Anadolu Agency. The secular, main opposition party, the Republican People's Party, or CHP had 30 percent.

The CHP's mayoral candidate for Ankara, Mansur Yavas, however, won control of Ankara after 25 years of rule by the AKP and a predecessor party. The 63-year-old lawyer received nearly 51 percent of the votes, according to Anadolu. The CHP and its allies also posted gains elsewhere, increasing the number of city mayoral seats from 14 in the previous local elections in 2014 to 20, according to the preliminary results.

"History is being written in Ankara," said deputy CHP leader Haluk Koc, while thousands of supporters celebrated outside the party's headquarters in Ankara.

Former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, the ruling party's candidate for mayor of Istanbul declared victory even though the race in Turkey's largest city and commercial hub was too close to call. Yildirim garnered 48.70 percent of the votes against the opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu's 48.65 percent, according to Anadolu, which drew criticism for failing to update results in Istanbul after Yildirim's declaration.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu rebuked Yildirim for declaring victory in Istanbul "in haste" and claimed his party had now control of Turkey three largest city: Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Imamoglu said he had won Istanbul by more than 29,000 votes, according to results tallied by his party.

Erdogan attaches great importance to Istanbul where he began his rise to power as its mayor in 1994. He has said at campaign rallies that "whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey." He refrained from declaring victory in the city of 15 million people.

Ankara was considered the main battleground of the race, where a former government environment minister, Mehmet Ozhaseki, ran for mayor under the banner of Erdogan and his nationalist allies. The ruling party accused his opponent Yavas of forgery and tax evasion. Yavas said he is the victim of a smear campaign.

"Ozhaseki and his dirty politics have lost," Yavas said in a victory speech.

Sunday's elections were a first test for Erdogan since he won re-election under a new system of government that gave the presidency expanded powers. Erdogan campaigned tirelessly for AKP's candidates, framing the municipal elections as a matter of "national survival." He also portrayed the country's economic woes as attacks by enemies at home and abroad.

"Those who have tried to bring our country on its knees by damaging our people's unity and togetherness, have once again been dealt a blow," Erdogan said, noting that the party had emerged as the winner nationwide by a large margin.

The voting was marred by scattered election violence that killed at least four people and injured dozens of others across Turkey.

Years of economic prosperity provided Erdogan and his party with previous election victories. But the race for 30 large cities, 51 provincial capitals and hundreds of districts were held as Turkey grapples with a weakened currency, a double-digit inflation rate and soaring food prices.

The high stakes of the local contests were brought into stark display with the deaths of two members of the Islamic-oriented Felicity Party, a small rival of the president's Justice and Development Party. Felicity's leader, Temel Karamollaoglu, alleged a polling station volunteer and a party observer were shot by a relative of a ruling party candidate.

The killings weren't caused by "simple animosity," but happened when the volunteers tried to enforce the law requiring ballots to be marked in private voting booths instead of out in the open, Karamollaoglu tweeted.

Two other people were killed in fighting in the southern city of Gaziantep. Fights related to local elections in several provinces also produced dozens of injuries, Anadolu reported. Election campaigning was highly polarized, with Erdogan and other officials using hostile rhetoric toward opposition candidates.

Erdogan's ruling party had renewed an alliance with the country's nationalist party to increase votes. Opposition parties also coordinated strategies and put forward candidates under alliances in an effort to maximize the chances of unseating members of the AKP.

Erdogan's supporters expressed dismay at losing the capital.

"We did not think that we would lose Ankara in this election," said Mehmet Akcam, 18. "Ankara will see the consequences of what it did."

The pro-Kurdish, People's Democratic Party appeared to have regained seats in several districts in Turkey's mostly-Kurdish southeast region where Erdogan's government had replaced elected mayors with government-appointed trustees, alleging that the ousted officials had links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

However, the party lost control of two key cities in the region.

The pro-Kurdish party had sat out critical mayoral races in major cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, with the aim of sending votes to a rival secular opposition party to help challenge Erdogan's party.

___

Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.

A man walks by a giant Turkish flag in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
Voters wait casts they ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
A statue of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is seen outside of a polling station as voters walk towards to cast they vote in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Mansur Yavas, the Ankara mayoral candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance talks to the media after he casts his ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
An official female shows the ballot voting paper with names and the parties a polling station during the municipal elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for Istanbul of Republican People's Party CHPV, and his wife Dilek cast their ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
A man walks by a Turkish flag and a poster showing the Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a boy in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
A man, left, takes photos as two others walk at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Men pray at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman and a man wait for voting at a polling station during the local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighbourhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman walk as a man, right, takes photos at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman with a cup of coffee walks at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A man walks by huge posters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still displayed despite an election ban, near a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave to the people they arrive at a polling station in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman with a cup of coffee walks at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman with a cup of coffee walks at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Men pray at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Men pray at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave to the people they arrive at a polling station in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave to the people they arrive at a polling station in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Voters wait casts they ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
Voters wait casts they ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
A man walks by huge posters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still displayed despite an election ban, near a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
A man walks by huge posters of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still displayed despite an election ban, near a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
An official female shows the ballot voting paper with names and the parties a polling station during the municipal elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
An official female shows the ballot voting paper with names and the parties a polling station during the municipal elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
A man, left, takes photos as two others walk at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A man, left, takes photos as two others walk at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A man walks by a giant Turkish flag in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
A man walks by a giant Turkish flag in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
A woman walk as a man, right, takes photos at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman walk as a man, right, takes photos at the Camlica mosque in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for Istanbul of Republican People's Party CHPV, and his wife Dilek cast their ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for Istanbul of Republican People's Party CHPV, and his wife Dilek cast their ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo)
Mansur Yavas, the Ankara mayoral candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance talks to the media after he casts his ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
Mansur Yavas, the Ankara mayoral candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance talks to the media after he casts his ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
A statue of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is seen outside of a polling station as voters walk towards to cast they vote in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A statue of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk is seen outside of a polling station as voters walk towards to cast they vote in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A man walks by a Turkish flag and a poster showing the Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a boy in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
A man walks by a Turkish flag and a poster showing the Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a boy in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)
A woman and a man wait for voting at a polling station during the local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighbourhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A woman and a man wait for voting at a polling station during the local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighbourhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leaves the polling booth during local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Mayoral elections are underway in 30 large cities in Turkey along with other municipal races Sunday that are seen as a barometer of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn in the nation straddling Europe and Asia. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leaves the polling booth during local elections, in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Mayoral elections are underway in 30 large cities in Turkey along with other municipal races Sunday that are seen as a barometer of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn in the nation straddling Europe and Asia. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during the local elections in Istanbul, Sunday, March 31, 2019. Turkish citizens have begun casting votes in municipal elections for mayors, local assembly representatives and neighborhood or village administrators that are seen as a barometer of Erdogan's popularity amid a sharp economic downturn. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)