CAIRO – In a remarkable victory for the country’s long-serving Justice and Development party (AKP), voters have apparently given Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a mandate for a new term, granting AKP more than 40 percent of their votes and picking the country’s first three veiled mayors.
“This nation has given a message to Turkey and to the world,” Erdogan said in an emotional late-night victory speech in Ankara, the capital, in front of thousands of supporters, New York Times reported on Monday, March 31.
“They said this nation will not bow and Turkey will not be defeated.”
Erdogan’s late night speech was given from a balcony at AK Party’s headquarters in Ankara as early results showed his party winning some 44-46 percent of the vote, and the opposition CHP trailing with 23-28 percent.
Over 52 million eligible voters were summoned to the polling stations to cast their votes at nearly 200,000 ballot boxes across the country.
They voted to elect mayors of cities and districts, city council members, and non-partisan ‘muhtars’ for villages and neighborhoods.
With 95 percent of all ballots counted, Erdogan’s AKP emerged well ahead of its rivals on 45 percent of the vote, with the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on 28.5 percent.
As early results emerged, AK Party Chairman Mustafa Ulvi Bezirci said Fatma Toru won the 2014 municipal elections in Meram district of Konya.
She became the first veiled mayor according to the initial results announced by Bezirci in a statement.
The second successful veiled candidate is AK Party’s Havva Yildirim, who was voted in as the head of the municipality of Gudul in Ankara.
Berivan Elif Kilic of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was also elected in the south-eastern district of Kocakoy in the city of Diyarbakir.
The first ballot since anti-government protests in summer 2013 and anti-corruption probes in December 2013, the results were seen as a victory for Erdogan over his “enemies”.
“I thank God for this great victory and this significant result,” Erdogan said in Sunday’s speech.
“Turkey’s enemies are disappointed today. The nation buried hands at the ballotbox that tried to curb its independence,” he said.
“You have protected the independence struggle of the new Turkey,” the man often called “the sultan” told his flag-waving followers, interrupted by chants of “Turkey is proud of you”, “Stand tall, don’t bow” and “God is great”.
Erdogan again threatened to pursue Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim scholar whom he accuses of running a parallel “deep state” undermining his government from faraway rural Pennsylvania.
“We will enter their caves and … they will pay the price,” he warned. “How can you threaten our national security on Syria? Syria is currently in a state of war against us.”
“There won’t be a state within a state,” he stressed.
For analysts, the election’s outcome gave the last word on Turkey’s recent turmoil.
“The AKP recorded a clear, indisputable victory despite all the allegations set against it,” Ozer Sencar, the director of the Ankara-based pollster MetroPoll, told New York Times.
“After these figures, Erdogan’s presidential nomination and election are almost guaranteed.”
As AKP celebrated victory, opposition expected harsh moves from Erdogan against his opponents.
“Let me tell you, Erdogan’s response is coming,” Tesev think-tank chairman Can Paker, seen as close to Erdogan, told Reuters.
“He will harshly and fully clean up the police and judiciary. And he will purge the press that supported the leaks. He will most certainly do that. He will say ‘I was elected to eliminate them’. He is not going to soften.”
On the other hand, the main opposition CHP party, criticized Erdogan’s threats as threatening society.
“It’s already clear from his speech this evening that he’s basically threatening society,” said Gursel Tekin, CHP Vice President.
“This shows his state of mind isn’t to be trusted, and these obvious threats are not something that we can accept.”