Turkey’s AK Party has won what seems to be a resounding victory in yesterday’s municipal elections, which were widely seen as a referendum on the ruling party in the wake of mass protests and a corruption scandal. While the official results have not been released, Turkish news agencies report that the religiously conservative AK Party has won 45.6 percent of the overall vote, far ahead of its nearest rival, the secular CHP, which won 27.9 percent. Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan celebrated the victory with a defiant speech, as the Washington Post reports:
“We are going to go into the caves of those traitors,” he said, referring to the Gulenist movement headed by Fethullah Gulen, a charismatic religious leader and former ally whom Erdogan has accused of leaking tapes that appear to reveal widespread corruption within his administration. “Some of them may run away, but they are going to pay for what they have done.”
Erdogan may have reserved his sharpest threat for Gulen and his followers, but he has no shortage of spite for the many other critics who have grown increasingly vocal since anti-government protests began last year. The AK Party maintains popularity among conservative, middle-class Turks who are the beneficiaries of a decade-long economic boom under Erdogan. But many secular citizens are fed up with what they think is an increasingly Islamist and authoritarian government.Just before the election, thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul after the death of a protester who had been in a coma since last year. Erdogan, meanwhile, was busy purging policemen and judges whom he suspected were loyal to Gulen. He imposed curbs on the internet, even banning Twitter and YouTube (the main outlets for the incriminating tapes). Protesters were only further incensed as he blamed the unrest on foreign conspirators, including the Jews, the “interest rate lobby” and Lufthansa. Hostility ratcheted up as the elections approached. One of our writers saw a campaign event for an AK Party candidate in Istanbul devolve into an all-out brawl between the supporters who flanked the candidate and the neighborhood residents who opposed him.From the election results, it seems that he has held his constituency, despite the break with Gulen. The AK Party was the big winner in the big cities, Istanbul (48 percent to CHP’s 39 percent) and Ankara (44.7 percent to CHP’s 43.8 percent). The opposition parties cried foul, blaming power outages, a sycophantic media, and other irregularities for the results. The CHP said it would file an appeal against the election results in Ankara.Whatever the outcome of that appeal, it is evident that Erdogan remains popular in Turkey. He would be wise, however, to take this election victory as an opportunity to strike a more conciliatory tone, as his President, Abdullah Gul, has done. Vowing retribution and revenge against those who oppose him will only further divide a country that, on the basis of this election at least, is already deeply divided.