Turkey to deliver verdict on Recep Tayyip Erdogan - the leader accused of heavy-handed repression after banning Twitter and YouTube

Voters can use local elections to show their discontent

Sitting on a podium, Mustafa Sarigul, the opposition mayoral candidate for Istanbul, conversed with a female audience in the Republican People’s Party’s city headquarters. “Erdogan chose to shut down Twitter, but then God has chosen to shut him up,” he said. The reference to the country’s premier losing his voice on Friday ahead of the local elections today prompted laughs.

The stakes for these municipal elections have been raised to a referendum on the ruling party’s leadership as it faces accusations of large-scale corruption and a heavy-handed repression during last summer’s Gezi protests. The bans on Twitter and YouTube have compounded matters to the point where, for Mr Sarigul, a win in Istanbul may pave the way to the country’s premiership.

While the Republican People’s Party, Turkey’s main opposition, has traditionally appealed to the country’s more liberal and Western-leaning voters, demographics are changing. Ilkur Kahraman, 40, was among the Turkish women in the audience wearing a scarf. “Sarigul loves everybody and makes no distinction on whether you’re wearing a scarf or not,” she said. “He brings us together against the dictator that is Erdogan.”

She used to vote for Recep Tayyip Erdogan because he represented her democratic and Muslim values. But today, like many Turks, Ms Kahraman fears her country is being polarised by his bellicose rhetoric. The Prime Minister has been locked in a toxic power feud with a moderate US-based Islamic cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who until recently supported him. The reclusive cleric is believed to have a strong footing in the country’s institutions, primarily the judiciary and police, through his large network of followers and scores of schools.

While not naming his rival directly, Mr Erdogan accuses a “parallel state” of triggering a widening graft probe that began with the arrests of the children of three of his ministers on 17 December and has been followed by a series of anonymously leaked audio recordings allegedly embroiling the premier in bribes and exposing the leader’s authoritarian streak. The successive leaks have prompted the government’s shutdown of Twitter and YouTube which, while they may have had some effect, caused international outrage and, in some quarters, ridicule.

Mr Sarigul accused the ruling Justice and Development Party of using illicit tricks to harm his campaign. The social media clampdown has not helped either. “It has greatly affected us, because it was our major medium to get through to voters and we’ve lost that connection now,” he said.

By contrast, with less than half of Turkey’s population using the internet and Mr Erdogan’s core voters stemming from more traditional backgrounds, the shutdown will not equally affect his AKP party. The prime minister has also tightened his administration’s grip over central institutions and is said to have purged the judiciary.

The shutdown came shortly after the posting of a video on YouTube in which senior officials were allegedly heard discussing military intervention in Syria. One voice implied a war could be “an opportunity” to deflect voters’ attention from local concerns ahead of elections. But the government branded the revelations as a “heinous treason”. Yesterday, Mr Erdogan told supporters: “Tomorrow we will teach those liars a lesson.”

In the early evening, in one of the cafés of the working-class district of Kasimpasa where Mr Erdogan was born, Servet Gemuz, 26, and Mesut Orzen, 24, were playing backgammon over tea and cigarettes. Mr Gemuz, a devout Muslim and a staunch supporter of the AKP, was oblivious to the bribery accusations. “I don’t care about what they say. I look at what Erdogan has done for the country and he has offered us a lot,” he said. His friend will also back the AKP, explaining that the party represents a pious yet progressive middle class whose values and needs were usually neglected. Polling predictions indicate the AKP will garner about 46 per cent of the vote.

Since Mr Erdogan’s party took power in 2002, Turkey has grown to become one of the world’s emerging economic giants. But the political feud and the Prime Minister’s authoritarian tendency could scare off investments. Some economists predict that a long-term contraction of the economy and a rise in unemployment could end Mr Erdogan’s popularity: the majority of his voters support him because of the country’s economic prosperity. 

Whatever the outcome of today’s elections, both sides are nowhere close to backing down and political analysts fear the struggle will be bloody. Back at the café, while the men here can joke about their political differences over tea, many fear the antagonism between Mr Erdogan and Mr Gulen could tear apart a country where the pious and liberals had learned to coexist.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Technical Software Consultant (Excel, VBA, SQL, JAVA, Oracle)

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: You will not be expected to hav...

Technical Sales Manager

£45000 - £53000 Per Annum plus bonus plus package: The Green Recruitment Compa...

Humanities Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive Rates: Randstad Education Maidstone: Outstan...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor