ANKARA • Turks voted yesterday in local elections that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has described as a matter of survival for Turkey and which were tarnished by violence that left two party members dead in the country's south-east.
Mr Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years, thanks in part to strong economic growth, has become the country's most popular, yet also most divisive, modern leader.
However, he could be dealt an electoral blow, with polls indicating his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may lose control of the capital Ankara and even Istanbul, the country's largest city.
Defeat in Ankara or Istanbul would end nearly a quarter of a century of rule by Mr Erdogan's AKP or its predecessors in those cities and deal a symbolic blow to Turkey's leader.
Yesterday's elections, in which Turks voted for mayors and other local officials across the country, were the first since Mr Erdogan assumed sweeping presidential powers last year.
With the economy contracting following a currency crisis last year in which the lira lost more than 30 per cent of its value, some voters appeared ready to punish Mr Erdogan, who has ruled with an increasingly uncompromising stance.
"I was actually not going to vote today but when I saw how much they (AKP) were flailing, I thought this might be the time to land them a blow. Everyone is unhappy. Everyone is struggling," said 47-year-old Hakan after voting in Ankara.
Polling stations closed at 4pm in eastern Turkey and an hour later in the rest of the country. Early indications from preliminary vote counts were expected two or three hours after voting closed, though a clear picture would take longer.
The election was marred by violence in the south-east and Istanbul.
A polling station official and an election observer, both of whom were members of the small Islamist Felicity Party, were shot dead in Malatya province, a party spokesman said. Media reports said one person had been detained.
In Diyarbakir, two people were hurt, one of them critically, after getting stabbed in a dispute between candidates, a hospital source said.
Dozens of people were hurt in other election-related clashes in the south-east, local media reported.
One person was stabbed as 15 people clashed in a row among candidates in Istanbul's Kadikoy district, a police source said.
Some 553,000 police and security force members were on duty for the vote nationwide.