Turkey's main opposition CHP party said on Monday it would appeal against municipal election results in the capital Ankara where it suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party (AKP) on Sunday.
The AKP won 44.8 percent of the vote in Ankara to the CHP's 43.9 percent, according to provisional results on Turkish television. Angry crowds gathered at CHP headquarters late on Sunday claiming fraud, as it became clear their candidate had failed to win one of the closest races in the nationwide polls.
"Today we will be preparing our application for an appeal by comparing the minutes from the ballot boxes and data from the Supreme Electoral Council,'' the CHP's mayoral candidate for Ankara, Mansur Yavas, said on his Twitter account.
A CHP official told Reuters an appeal would be lodged later on Monday or on Tuesday. A second official said the party would also appeal the result in the southern coastal city of Antalya, traditionally a CHP stronghold, which fell to the AKP.
Earlier, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned his political foes they would "pay the price" for accusing him and his party of corruption.
"You stood up for Turkey's ideals, for politics, for your party and your prime minister, " Erdogoan told thousands of supporters Sunday in Ankara as he claimed victory in local elections seen as a referendum on his rule. "We will enter the lair of our enemies. They will pay for what they have done."
The Erdogan warning came just days after his government blocked nationwide access to YouTube, after the video sharing website circulated what is thought to be an audio recording implicating senior officials in corruption.
The audio is purported to be of Turkey's foreign minister discussing options with other senior officials for staging bogus attacks on Turkey from Syrian soil to create a pretext for war.
"The prime minister has interpreted this as a blank check," Cengiz Aktar of the Istanbul Policy Center said referring to the election results. " It will not only whitewash these allegations [of corruption], but he will also be able to continue exactly like before. It will be business as usual. No one expects YouTube and Twitter to be allowed again."
Earlier this month, the Ankara government banned the micro-blogging service Twitter for circulating other audio files implicating the prime minister and his son in corruption. The blockages drew international condemnation.
Analysts view the elections as highly polarized.
"They believe that this will help their political agenda by helping them to consolidate a segment of votes behind them -- so, in essence, to eliminate the middle ground and to create to two major poles," said Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Europe institute in Brussels. Hhe noted that the AK Party’s success is built on political polarization.
Some observers say the opposition failed to provide an effective alternative, relying too heavily on the corruption allegations.
A power struggle between Erdogan and U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen dominated the election campaign. Erdogan accused the cleric of using a network of followers in the police and judiciary to fabricate graft smears in an effort to topple him.
Emboldened by Sunday’s result, Erdogan is likely to run for president in August's election. But Carnegie Europe's Ulgen says despite the prime minister's election success, Turkey's deepening political polarization could make the country increasingly unstable.
"It's making future agreement concessions and understanding and tolerance much more difficult to achieve," Ulgen said. "It is likely to have long-term consequences regarding the stability of the country."
The Sunni-dominated Erdogan government has supported elements of the Syrian opposition fighting to unseat the Iran-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad. Analysts say Turkey also is a key entry point for military supplies bound for rebels.
On Sunday, Erdogan equated the leaks to attacks on Turkey. He has linked them to former ally Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric he says used a network of followers in Turkey's police force to concoct a corruption case against him.
Eight people were killed Sunday in clashes as ballots were cast across the country. Authorities say the violence occurred in two villages near Turkey's southeastern border with Syria. Another 13 people were reported wounded in the gunfire.
Human rights groups and Turkey's NATO allies have widely condemned Erdogan for blocking access to the Internet.
Sunday's polls were the first since nationwide anti-government protests last year that sparked weeks of clashes that left eight people dead and thousands wounded.
Fifty million people were expected to cast ballots. But no early data was reported on voter turnout.
Dorian Jones contributed to this report from Istanbul, some information provided by Reuters