Little Time for Erdogan to savour election victory

Little Time for Erdogan to savour election victory
Supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan celebrating his ruling AK party's election victory in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on Monday. The AK party received 45 per cent of the votes cast in local elections, while the main opposition garnered 29 per cent.

LONDON - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK party may have passed with flying colours its test at local elections, but more challenges await Mr Erdogan as he sets his sights on the presidency and goes after his enemies.

Although his name was not on the ballot papers for the local elections on Sunday, the vote was regarded as a verdict on him and his government.

For, in the run-up to the ballot, the AK was subjected to an unprecedented wave of allegations of corruption, mostly in the form of anonymously released taped telephone conversations in which voices which appear to resemble those of the Prime Minister, members of his family or senior officials are heard discussing bribes and kickbacks.

The source of most of these compromising tapes is presumed to be Mr Fetullah Gulen, a reclusive Islamic scholar who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, whose network commands a large number of followers among the Turkish police, judiciary and intelligence services. Mr Gulen used to be an ally of Prime Minister Erdogan, but the two quarrelled and are now sworn enemies.

"Half of those corruption claims in any other democratic country would be enough for the collapse of the government", wrote Mr Murat Yetkin, a leading columnist for Hurriyet, the country's top opposition daily.

But Turkey's latest municipal poll results provide scant evidence to support this theory.

At around 45 per cent of the votes cast, the ruling AK party's share of the vote is up six points on the 2009 ballot, while the main opposition trails with 29 per cent. Mr Erdogan remains in control of Istanbul, the country's biggest city, and Ankara, the nation's capital.

The abrasive Mr Erdogan was predictably jubilant. "Those who attacked Turkey got disappointed," he told a victory rally in Ankara.

Conspirators against the country would now be punished, he warned. "We will enter their caves and… they will pay the price."

Hundreds of police officers and local prosecutors have already been dismissed for alleged links to the Gulen movement, and many more will now face similar treatment.

The opposition media can also expect no mercy: More than 100 journalists are under arrest on various charges, while social websites such as Twitter and Facebook remain blocked in Turkey.

Mr Erdogan's dominance of Turkish politics is partly due to his competent stewardship of economic affairs: The country's US$1.3 trillion (S$1.6 trillion) economy is still growing at a respectable 4 per cent. Mr Erdogan is also helped by an opposition which remains fractured.

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