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Turkey's ruling party AKP wins local elections but loses ground

PoliticsISTANBUL - Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won the local elections held on Sunday but public support for the party fell to lowest level since it was established.

Turkey's ruling party AKP wins local elections but loses ground

According to results early on Monday with nearly 98 percent of the votes counted, AKP gained 38.92 percent of votes for provincial councils, seen as a proxy for the general elections, down from 46.6 percent in the 2007 general elections, and from 41.7 percent in the 2007 local elections.

AKP held its mayoral seats in the largest city of Istanbul and the capital Ankara; however, the race with candidates of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, ran neck and neck.

The ruling party however lost key cities that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had campaigned hard to take, including Izmir, Adana and Diyarbakir. The biggest surprise came from Antalya where the AKP mayor, Menderes Turel, lost to CHP candidate and former rector of the city's university, Mustafa Akaydin.

Erdogan admitted, in his first statement as initial election results were revealed, his dissatisfaction with the outcome, noting his disappointment with the overall votes gained by his AKP, as well as its failure to grab the mayoral office in cities like Diyarbakır and Antalya. He said the Turkish public taught his party a lesson and they will act in line with this.

The party that has ruled Turkey since 2002, increasing its votes in each election, appeared set to lose 16 mayoral seats. Sunday's election is the first in which support to the ruling AKP fell.

Playing the expectation game, AKP’s failure to build on its 47 percent national victory in 2007, falling in some once-loyal constituencies below 40 percent, is certain to stir debate in the coming days about the party’s prospects to continue its dominance of Turkish political life.

The Turkish media agreed that the results constitute a warning to the ruling party. Hurriyet, Vatan and Cumhuriyet dailies said the results are a warning for the AKP, while some said, "The public says one minute to Erdogan," referring to the prime minister's outburst directed at Israel President Shimon Peres in Davos in January.

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