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Turkey Holds Local Elections in Test for Erdogan’s Ruling AKP

Turks headed to the polls Sunday for local elections that will be a test for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party risks being defeated in both the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul amid an economic downturn. It is the first municipal poll since Erdogan passed sweeping constitutional reforms in 2017 that created an executive presidency. The Turkish leader was re-elected in a relatively close national vote the following year. But much of his thunder has been lost as the country descended into a recession marked by high unemployment and double-digit inflation. Erdogan has also sparred with US President Donald Trump, who in mid-2018 imposed sanctions on Ankara due to its imprisonment of a pastor with American citizenship. Erdogan, for his part, has criticized Washington for its refusal to extradite exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish leader blames for orchestrating a failed coup that rocked the country in 2016. Meanwhile, Turkey remains bogged down in Syria, with troops stationed in the country along the northwest border. Ankara has drawn the ire of the global community for repeatedly threatening to launch an assault of US-supported Kurdish fighters in Syria, whom Erdogan views as an extension of the banned PKK. The Turkish leader came under intense criticism during the campaign leading up to today local elections for staging rallies featuring blurred excerpts of the footage live-streamed by the attacker who recently killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. The Turkish president has also been condemned for his heavy-handed crackdown on civil society, having jailed tens of thousands of people allegedly connected to the so-called Gulenist movement. According to Arab media, many Kurdish politicians have been arrested or detained in the lead-up to the local elections.