Turkey’s controversial leader sweeps the polls

The World
Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, greets his supporters in Ankara after his AK party won a clear victory in municipal elections.

In Turkey, the AK party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan did well in local elections Sunday. That may be surprising to a casual observer, given how controversial he has been lately.

Last summer, Turkey was in the news a lot. Massive anti-government protests gripped Istanbul's Gezi Park. 

Then this year, recordings were leaked on social media of apparent corruption involving Erdogan's family and inner circle. Erdogan responded by shutting down YouTube and Twitter in Turkey, and tightening control of the news media. That's led to accusations of growing authoritarianism. 

So you'd think the prime minister's AK Party would a pay a price for all that at the polls. But think again. Local elections handed Erdogan and the AK Party a big victory. Turnout was very high. In fact, in big cities like Istanbul and Ankara, turnout was about 90 percent.

Dalia Mortada — a reporter in Istanbul — says plenty of the protesters came out to vote. But, she says, the AK party simply has a huge well of support. “There really is no alternative for social conservatives or religious voters.”

The protest movement, while noisy, appears to be confined to just a part of the urban population.

Also, Mortada says, the AK party has some real accomplishments to its credit. Officials have established freedom of worship in a country that used to pride itself on its secular heritage. It also has largely ended the Kurdish separatist war in the eastern part of Turkey.

Erdogan’s pugnacious personality also appeals to many Turks. After his success at the polls, he’s now threatening to “hunt down” his enemies “in their lairs.”

Some Turks are afraid that is an indication Erdogan may be heading in a more authoritarian direction.

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