ISTANBUL — Even as he faced sweeping anti-government protests last summer and a corruption investigation that challenged his rule, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held close to the notion that voters had put him in office and would do so again.
On Sunday, voters delivered what appeared to be another resounding victory for his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in local elections that had taken on national importance as a referendum on Erdogan’s 11 years in power.
“This nation has given a message to Turkey and to the world,” Erdogan proclaimed in a victory speech in Ankara, the capital, in front of thousands of supporters. “They said this nation will not bow and Turkey will not be defeated.”
While official results had not been released by the time Erdogan claimed victory, preliminary results reported by news outlets showed victories in Istanbul and a close race in Ankara as well as a nationwide plurality that exceeded the AKP’s nearly 39 percent in the last local elections in 2009.
The elections were for mayors and other local officials — Erdogan was not on the ballot — but he campaigned aggressively, and framed the contest as a referendum on the corruption allegations and, more generally, on his time in power.
The opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, a secular party founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, sought to channel the grievances against Erdogan and expand its constituency in this election, but the results suggest an uncertain future for the prime minister’s political opponents.
“This is the first time I’ve voted in local elections,” said Alican Sapci, 62, who voted in Istanbul. “I’m voting for the AKP because I’m terrified of what will happen if the CHP came back to power. We lived like peasants under their rule, walking on streets cleaning rubbish, hiding our wives at home because they wear head scarves. I don’t think the AKP is perfect, but there is a future under their rule for my grandchildren.”
Opponents of Erdogan’s have increasingly come to resent what they regard as his authoritarian turn and the increased role of religion in politics under his government, not to mention the allegations of corruption.
Voting against Erdogan’s party “is the first step toward getting rid of corruption, reclaiming our freedoms, and remembering our humanity,” said Ali Terzi, 43, who voted in Ankara. “More importantly, it’s a strong stance against the manipulation of religion.”