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Turkey votes in local election, a test for Erdogan as economy stagnates

Days before the vote started, the Turkish lira has been sliding [Anadolu ]

Date of publication: 31 March, 2019

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As the economy stagnates in Turkey, locals began voting in the first municipal ballot since new constitutional reforms were approved in 2017.

Turkey voted in local election on Sunday, deemed a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose ruling party is risking defeat in the capital as economy stagnates.

Justice and Development Party (AKP), under Erdogan's leadership, have won every vote since the party first came to power in 2002. However, experts say the party could lose Ankara and even Istanbul in this election.

Sunday's vote is the first municipal ballot since new constitutional reforms were approved in 2017 to create an executive presidency, giving Erdogan wider powers.

But Erdogan and his party, after a decade and a half in office, appears more vulnerable with the country's economy in recession, in addition to high unemployment and inflation.

Days before the vote started, the Turkish lira has been sliding, which could lead to a similar scenario of the 2018 currency crisis that hurt Turkish households.

Erdogan, even though he is not on the ballot, campaigned hard across Turkey, often with several campaigns a day, in an attempt to rally his base among conservative Turks.

The president treats the election as a matter of survival. He attacked opposition candidates by accusing them of being linked to PKK Kurdish militants.

Earlier this month, Erdogan threatened one of the country’s opposition leaders with arrest for calling him "spoiled" and "arrogant".

Erdogan said he filed a legal complaint against Meral Aksener, leader of the nationalist Good Party (IYI), Oda TV reported.

"He became spoiled, he became arrogant, he was saying he was among you [the people], but now he is travelling with 300 bodyguards, with 20 different cars in order to conceal which one he is in," the IYI Party leader said at an election really earlier this week.

Aksener’s comments were "indecent", the president claimed at an election rally in eastern Turkey.

Referring to the AKP, Husnu Acar, 53, said: "The economy is terrible, the economy is finished... They are the ones with a survival problem."

In this local election, voters are to elect a number of mayors, municipal councils and other local officials.

For Erdogan's supporters, he remains the strong leader Turkey needs.

However, human rights activists and even Turkey's Western allies say that democracy has been eroded under his leadership, particularly after a failed 2016 coup that led to the arrest of tens of thousands of people.

FETO, or the Fethullah Gulen Terrorist Organisation, is the Turkish government moniker for the Gulen movement, which it accused of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.

At least 77,000 people have arrested and around 130,000 others have lost their jobs in the public sector for alleged associations with Gulen since 2016.

Hundreds of private companies have also been forced to close or pass into the control of the government. 

Oppositional media organisations have also been hit hard in the crackdown, during which many of those targeted face thin evidence of their association with Gulen.

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