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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Piece Dyed Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning UK textile innovator specia...

Recruitment Genius: Pre-Sales Consultant / Presales Engineer / Sales Engineer

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software House that produces ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is Europe's indust...

Recruitment Genius: Engineering Technician

£17020 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Aerospace company is looki...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen