Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP - led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - has capitalised on an improving economy and significant reforms designed to bring the nation closer to the European Union.
  
The party, which has its roots in a banned Islamist movement, has steered clear of moves that could ignite political crises with the secularist elite and the army. 
  
AKP won 34% of the vote in general elections in November 2002, just a year after it was founded.
  
Several polls have suggested the party might win more than 50% of the vote in Sunday's local elections, a rare achievement in a country where politics is notoriously fractured.
  
The party is also expected to win comfortably in Turkey's two biggest cities - Istanbul and Ankara – with one poll by A and G Research giving the party 58 and 68% of the vote respectively.
  
Republican decline

Polls have also showed a decline in the popularity of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which has built its strategy on a belligerent defense of secularist values and on accusations that the AKP harbors a secret Islamist agenda.
  
"Taking advantage of being a new party and a party in power, the AKP has become the focus of the people's hopes for a better economy," said Omer Faruk Genckaya, a political scientist at Ankara's Bilkent University.
  
"There are trends in politics just as in fashion. The AKP is now in, but if it fails to meet people's expectations, the support it won in such a short time will vanish that quickly," he added. 
  

"There are trends in politics just as in fashion. The AKP is now in, but if it fails to meet people's expectations, the support it won in such a short time will vanish that quickly"

Omer Faruk Genckaya,
political scientist at Ankara's Bilkent University

During the AKP's term in office, Turkey's chronic inflation has declined to single-digit figures for the first time in decades and macro-economic indicators have improved under a tight programme, supervised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  
The party has also repeatedly increased the wages of most disadvantaged groups, despite warnings from the IMF.
  
But the party still has to cut back on unemployment, estimated at about 10%, which represents the real plight for the ordinary citizen, Genckaya said. 
  
Islamist agenda?

According to columnist Taha Akyol, the AKP has managed to dispel suspicions that it entertains hidden Islamist ambitions.
  
"In the past year and a half, it became obvious that accusations of a secret Islamist agenda are baseless," he wrote recently in the Milliyet daily, arguing that the party has all the hallmarks of a centre-right conservative movement.
  
In Sunday's elections, voters in Turkey's 81 provinces will elect about 90,000 officials - mayors, city councils, provincial councils and headmen - for a term of five years.
  
Local administrations have a limited role in Turkey's centralised government system, but the AKP is soon expected to adopt legislation to strengthen their powers.
  
Candidates from 20 parties as well as independents will contest the polls.
  
Turkey's main pro-Kurdish movement, the Democratic People's Party (DEHAP), has formed an alliance with the leftist Social-Democrat People's Party (SHP), and its candidates will run on SHP tickets.