With local polls imminent, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan can still draw tens of thousands to rallies on the campaign trail, but a mounting corruption scandal is doing unprecedented damage to his image.

Voice recordings published online last week — allegedly of Erdogan and his son discussing how to hide large amounts of money — have sparked mass protests and creating rifts within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Analysts say the tapes have the potential to hurt the prime minister at local polls on March 30, a key test of Erdogan’s popularity ahead of a presidential election in August and parliamentary elections next year.

“Even if their authenticity is still challenged, those tapes have definitively put the whole crisis in a different perspective by placing Erdogan personally in the middle of the storm,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies.

“They will have a major impact on the prime minister’s popularity,” he told AFP.

If the party’s vote share drops too far, say observers, he may start losing critical support within his own camp.

“Centre-right Islamists within the party are very angry at the prime minister,” said Mehmet Akif Okur, associate professor at the Ankara-based Gazi University.

“If the AKP wins less than 40 percent, we could see mass resignations,” he told AFP.

Eight lawmakers including a former culture minister have already resigned from the party, lowering the number of AKP seats in parliament to 318 out of 550…. see more

source: ahram online