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Polls boost Turkish leader’s presidential hopes

SHARE Polls boost Turkish leader’s presidential hopes

ANKARA, Turkey — Despite allegations of corruption and concerns about authoritarianism, Turkey's local elections have given Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan momentum for a campaign to become the country's first directly elected president.

Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development party swept municipal elections on Sunday, gaining 45.5 percent of the votes and roundly beating the main opposition party, according to unofficial results. Erdogan's party retained the key city of Istanbul and was leading in a close race in Ankara, where the results were likely to be contested.

Turkey's stock market rallied Monday, as Erdogan's win eased market concerns over instability. The Turkish lira strengthened against the dollar and the euro.

Analysts say the result amounts to a vote of confidence for Erdogan and will encourage him to run in presidential elections in August, where he would have to win 50 percent of the votes.

"(Erdogan) has seen that he has the support of a mass of people that believes in him and won't desert him under any condition," wrote Mehmet Tezkan, a commentator for Milliyet newspaper.

Erdogan's presidential aspirations had been put in doubt after last year's anti-government protests, a corruption scandal and a series of restrictions on freedom, including blocking access to Twitter and YouTube. The curbs on social media came after several audio recordings were leaked, suggesting corruption by Erdogan and family members.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition party leader, said Monday the election results would embolden Erdogan to further restrict freedoms and democratic rights.

He said Erdogan should answer the allegations of graft in court before seeking the presidency.

"A man with a questionable (reputation) cannot be president," Kilicdaroglu said.

Erdogan and his party have dominated Turkish politics in a decade of great prosperity. The party came to power backed by a pious Muslim base looking for greater standing in a country that had for decades favored a secular elite.

The allegations of corruption and bribe-taking have already brought down four ministers. Erdogan claims the allegations are a plot orchestrated by followers of his former ally, U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Following the results, Erdogan promised retribution against Gulen's movement.

There were scattered reports of fraud, including irregular electoral lists and pre-stamped ballot papers, which were likely to delay official confirmation of the results. Mustafa Sarigul, the losing opposition candidate for mayor of Istanbul, complained of power cuts during vote tallies and "sacks of ballot papers wandering around." Kilicdaroglu said his party would contest results in Ankara and several other places.

Turkey's Kurdish Party, which is involved in peace talks with Erdogan's government to try to end nearly three decades of fighting, also made electoral gains. It increased the number of cities it won in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast regions from eight to 10, according to unofficial results.