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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower