Erdogan poised to lose Ankara, Istanbul in major upset

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Turkey has experienced years of rapid economic growth under Erdogan, underpinned by a construction boom and cheap loans, that have driven living standards ever higher and ensured the AKP won votes well beyond its core constituency of pious and conservative Turks.

"If there is one invalid vote in each ballot box, it makes 31,136 votes in total, which is more than the difference [between the two sides]", he said, adding that there are some 315,500 invalid votes in the polls.

The AKP's candidate for Ankara mayor, Mehmet Ozhaseki, won 47.1% support and his party said it would challenge the results.

The AKP and its Islamist predecessor have controlled Istanbul and Ankara for 25 years.

CHP candidate Mansur Yavas won the mayorship of the capital in a victory acknowledged by Erdogan.

Yildirim accepted that his rival was leading but said his party would file an objection, suggesting a recount of the 319,500 votes declared void in Istanbul.

The AKP still holds a majority of the city's districts, Anadolu reported.

People walk past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019.

At home, the head of Turkey's opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli, as well as former Prime Ministers Tansu Ciller and Mesut Yilmaz also sent congratulations to Erdogan.

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Erdogan, who began his own political career as Istanbul mayor, personally campaigned hard across Turkey, often with several rallies a day, even though he was not on the ballot.

But the recent economic troubles took a toll on party support, two AK Party sources said, after the lira slumped against the dollar previous year, inflation jumped to 20 percent, unemployment climbed and the economy tipped into recession.

In mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey, residents celebrated as the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) won back municipalities that authorities had taken control of two years ago, accusing the HDP of terrorist links.

Speaking as the results were still being counted, Erdogan said that the outcome of the elections would be the "nation's will".

However, economists say the president has made similar reform pledges after all recent elections, before focusing instead on short-term fixes.

Turkish lira stood at 5.6275 against US dollar at 0357 GMT, but its slip on March 22 marked its worst performance since August when a full-blown crisis took hold and tipped Turkey's economy into a recession that could last deep into this year.

Sunday's election was a significant victory for the opposition, which displayed good strategies and promising candidates, said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund.

He commended the Turkish public for the high turnout rate of 84% and called it a "sign of healthy democratic interest and awareness".

A European group observing Turkey's local elections criticised curbs on the free expression of citizens and journalists, saying on Monday it was unsure whether the Turkey electoral environment was free and fair.

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