ISTANBUL — Turkey on Sunday was awaiting the results of local elections in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had a central role even though his name wasn’t on the ballots.
The elections are widely seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s tumultuous rule of more than a decade, and the prime minister has been campaigning as if his own career were on the line.
High-profile races for mayor of Istanbul and Ankara with incumbents from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, better known by its Turkish acronym AKP, will be watched closely for signs of whether his influence is waning. The Turkish elections board says more than 50 million people are eligible to vote.
Voter turnout appeared to be strong, with people forming long queues at polling stations. Although quality polling is hard to come by in Turkey, it is widely expected that the AKP will outstrip opposition parties Sunday, winning a plurality of the vote.
But how much of a plurality will matter. Erdogan’s party has already been trying to lower expectations. His party has pointed to the 39 percent they received in the 2009 local elections as a benchmark.
Erdogan and his party have dominated Turkish politics over the past decade in a period of great prosperity. The party came to power backed by a pious Muslim base looking for greater standing in a country that had favored a secular elite. But AKP, whose party symbol is a light bulb, has also cultivated an identity of pragmatism and competency.
That image has been rocked by a corruption scandal, with a series of leaked tapes bringing down four ministers with revelations of bribe-taking and cover-up. One tape allegedly involves Erdogan and family members, but he and his allies have rejected the allegations as a plot orchestrated by followers of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally who has split with him.
Erdogan has been suggesting at rallies of hundreds of thousands of supporters that the election will let the people decide if the tapes are significant.
“What the people say goes,” Erdogan said after casting his ballot. The people’s decision is (to be) respected.”