The Islamist Welfare Party (RP) could win Istanbul in the local elections on 27 March, according to mid-February opinion polls by two local companies, Konda and Sonar.

The two polls say the RP will take Istanbul with a quarter of the vote in the city, where it has made strong gains in recent years and has proved itself capable of running wards. Countrywide, Konda says the RP will take 24.5 per cent of the vote, just behind the opposition Motherland Party’s (ANAP’s) 26.7 per cent.

President Demirel has protested angrily against the polls because they discount the electoral chances of the two parties in the ruling coalition, Prime Minister Tansu Ciller’s True Path Party (DYP), which Demirel founded, and the Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP).

The SHP controls the country’s largest cities, but has had a poor track record since the last local elections in 1989. In Istanbul, it has been tainted by a corruption scandal involving the Istanbul Water & Sewerage Administration (ISKI).