The biggest winner in Turkey’s local elections was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was not even personally running for office, dealing a blow to opponents.

Emboldened by a strong showing for his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), despite corruption allegations, Erdogan’s victory speech offered no olive branch to the opposition and instead was a stern warning about what is to come.

His first step could be to root out supporters of US based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a one-time AKP ally who fell out with the party last year.  Erdogan has blamed Gulen for a series of audio leaks which have painted the image of a corrupt government.

He has also charged that the prosecution of four government ministers, who were forced to resign in December amid a graft probe by police and prosecutors, is the work of Gulen, though the cleric denies involvement.

Twitter and YouTube, where many of the corruption allegations surfaced, were blocked in the lead up to the election and remain banned.

Erdogan insists he is the democratically-elected leader, and points to his six consecutive election wins in the past 12 years, as the opposition struggles to convince the AKP base that they offer a better alternative.

Despite two court rulings against the social media blackouts, the government has not budged, even when his Nato allies, like the US and Britain, chided the ban on the popular websites.

Erdogan denies the Internet bans amount to censorship, characterising the social media sites as simply commercial companies that sell a product.

“It is everyone’s free will whether or not to buy their product,” he has said “This has nothing to do with freedoms.”

Erdogan’s next move is still up in the air. AKP rules currently prevent him from seeking a fourth term as prime minister, and some observers saw hints in his victory speech that he will run for president.

Yesterday, Erdogan gave a strong hint  that the presidency is on his mind  Asked whether he would seek to become head of state, Erdogan said he and incumbent Abdullah Gul “will reach a decision after negotiating this between us”.

This will be the first time in Turkish history that voters get to directly choose their president, as in the past parliament made the appointment.

Having secured 45% of the vote in the local elections, Erdogan will have to see if he can pass the halfway mark and ensure a personal victory, continuing his winning streak.

The opposition parties, while making fraud allegations in certain polling stations, will have to consider why they fail to unseat the AKP time and again, before the presidential vote.



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