Turks began voting on Sunday in local elections that President Tayyip Erdogan has described as a matter of survival for the country.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years thanks to strong economic growth and supreme campaigning skills, has become the country’s most popular, yet also most divisive, leader in modern history.
However, he could be dealt an electoral blow with polls indicating his ruling AK Party (AKP) may lose control of the capital Ankara, and even Istanbul, the country’s largest city.
Voters in provinces in eastern Turkey began voting at 7:00am (0400 GMT), while voting in the rest of Turkey begins at 8:00am. Polling stations close at 4:00pm in the east and 5:00pm in the west.
Just over 57 million people are eligible to vote. A clear picture of the winners will probably emerge around midnight.
With the economy contracting following a currency crisis last year in which the lira lost more than 30 per cent of its value, some voters appeared ready to punish Erdogan who has ruled with an increasingly uncompromising stance.
This week, as authorities again scrambled to shore up the lira, Erdogan cast the country’s economic woes as resulting from attacks by the West, saying Turkey would overcome its troubles following Sunday’s vote and adding he was “the boss” of the economy.
“The aim behind the increasing attacks towards our country ahead of the elections is to block the road of the big, strong Turkey,” Erdogan told one of his six rallies in Istanbul on Saturday.
Sunday’s elections, in which Turks will vote for mayors and other local officials across the country, will be the first since Erdogan assumed sweeping presidential powers last year and will be a reckoning for his government, which has come under fire for its economic policies and record on human rights.