ISTANBUL— Voting has ended in critical local elections in Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose government is mired in corruption allegations, has declared the poll a referendum on his rule.
Voters were still lining up to vote at some polling stations when the official closing time passed. According to media reports, the turnout in the local elections was very high.
The poll is widely seen as of critical importance as it the first since widespread anti-government protests in May and June last year.
After voting in Ankara, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called on the people to look to their conscience.
He said Turkey's democracy needs to be strengthened, it needs to be cleaned, and he trusts the people’s wisdom. He added that he hopes for favorable results.
Observers say the opposition has fielded strong candidates in key cities, in particular Istanbul, where are close vote is expected.
Erdogan said it is a difficult election for the ruling AK Party.
The people will give the final verdict today and what they say is what matters, said Erdogan.
Observers say the election has been one of toughest and most polarizing in the country’s history. During the campaign the popular social media platforms Twitter and YouTube were banned after they helped disseminate audio of alleged conversations implicating government ministers in corruption and political misdeeds.
President Abdullah Gul made an appeal for calm in the aftermath of the election.
He said everyone knows it was a bitter campaign, but the bitterness should be left behind. He added that Turkey's problems and hardships will be solved within the laws and bounds of the constitution so a stronger Turkey will continue into the future.
All the main political parties have voiced concerns over the fairness of the elections. Unprecedented numbers of election monitors drawn from the political parties and non-partisan groups are scrutinizing the ballot count.