At least eight people were killed and 27 people were wounded Sunday in clashes between supporters of rival candidates during Turkey’s heated municipal elections.
The deadly clashes took place in the southeast region near the Syrian border, local media reported. Yuvacik village in Sanliurfa province, where six were killed and four people were left wounded, saw the worst of the violence, according to Doga news agency. Meanwhile, an additional two people were killed and nine were injured in a separate incident in the Hatay province.
The violence comes as polling elsewhere in Turkey passed peacefully and turnout was seemingly high, with voters reporting long lines and wait times of more than an hour to cast their ballot.
The local elections are widely seen to represent a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his religiously conservative Justice and Development party (AKP) after a recent corruption scandal and a damaging apparent security leak, as well as unprecedented civil unrest last year.
"Our people will tell the truth above anything else," Erdogan said after voting in Istanbul.
Election campaigns have been hard-fought. Supporters of the AKP’s main rival, the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP), characterize Erodgan as an authoritarian ruler. Meanwhile, Erodgan reportedly described his opponents as traitors who should be treated to “an Ottoman slap” at the ballot box, Saturday.
At a polling station at a primary school in Istanbul’s Besiktas neighborhood, voters were sharply divided. Many wore Besiktas soccer club colors, perhaps to make a point; the club’s Carsi supporters group were a central force in Gezi protests. Others were more conservative and backed the AKP despite recent issues.
Ozan Parlar, a supporter of the Communist Party of Turkey who was observing voting had little confidence in the electoral process.
“I don’t feel anything about the elections, the dictator [Erdogan] can do anything he wants and people will approve what he does… He will come for revenge [on his opponents] if he wins at the polls,” he told VICE News, adding that he thought fraud could be “a big thing” and that further protest could erupt in response. “We came here to defend our rights as we defended our rights on the streets. If it doesn’t work, then we will go the streets once again.”
Salihah, 56, who declined to give her last name, waited outside the school with her extended family.
She told VICE News that she was still a staunch supporter of Erdogan and the AKP. Recent unrest, she added, had only strengthened her resolve.
“It was different to vote today than in the past because of protests. I'm worried because this environment might damage our culture and might damage the country,” Salihah said.
She added that she did not believe the corruption allegations leveled at Erdogan and remained confident in both the PM and his rule.
“I think AKP will win, I voted for them and I think Erdogan is a good leader who’s good for the country,” she said.
Erdogan has found himself surrounded by scandal, as leaked recordings that appeared to implicate him in corrupt conduct appeared online and were circulated around social media channels.
Access to Twitter was later blocked across the country, in a move he backed and justified by describing the site as a threat to national security. On Friday, YouTube was blocked too after an audio recording alleged to contain Turkey's intelligence chief, foreign minister, and deputy head of the armed forces discussing the possibility of military action in Syria and conducting a “false-flag” attack on Turkish soil as a pretext for war was posted on the video-sharing site.
Polls have now closed and vote counting is underway with results expected to be announced from 9:00 PM local time.
The AKP is hoping to equal or better the 40 percent it garnered in 2009. A significant drop would be seen as a major blow for Erodgan, but his opponents fear a major increase might encourage further moves to silence dissent.