Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends the ceremony at Canakkale Martyrs' Memorial in Gallipoli Peninsula to mark 104th anniversary of Canakkale Naval Victory Day in Canakkale, Turkey on March 18. Photo: AFP Forum via Andalou Agency/Ali Balikci

In what would be a major defeat for Turkey’s ruling party after a decade and a half in power, the country’s state media reported that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP was trailing in an extremely competitive race for the capital Ankara in Sunday’s local elections.

With 75% of the ballot boxes counted, the opposition CHP candidate for Ankara mayor was ahead with 49.81% of votes, but the AKP had just 47.8%, Anadolu state agency reported, citing initial results.

The AKP candidate for Istanbul mayor was ahead with 49.68% of votes to the CHP’s 47.77%, with 88% of ballot boxes opened, it said.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won every vote since the party first came to power in 2002, but analysts are now saying that the party could potentially face a challenge in Istanbul as the economic slowdow gains momentum.

Sunday’s poll was the first municipal ballot since Turks approved constitutional reforms in 2017 to create an executive presidency that gave Erdogan wider powers after 16 years in office.

But Erdogan, whose ability to win continuously at the polls is unparalleled in Turkish history, was more vulnerable with the economy in recession, unemployment higher and inflation in double digits.

Voting closed at 1400 GMT in Sunday’s local elections, which were held mostly without incident, with the exception of the deaths of two men killed in a fight at a polling station in the east of Turkey.

Much of the AKP’s success has been down to Erdogan’s perceived economic prowess, but days before the vote, the Turkish lira was sliding again, provoking memories of the 2018 currency crisis that badly hurt Turkish households.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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