Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) has a strong lead in Turkey’s local elections, with around 35 percent of the votes counted as of 21:45 GMT, according to Turkey's semi-official Anatolia news agency.

The AKP's votes currently stand at 47.9 percent, while the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has 28.1 percent and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) holds 13.3 percent, the agency reported late on Sunday.

The elections, which were being held amid corruption allegations and damaging security leaks that have shaken the 12-year rule of the AKP government, were widely seen as a vote of confidence for the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister.

According to Anatolia news agency, in Istanbul, Turkey's largest city and financial capital, the AKP reportedly holds 48.6 percent of the votes while the CHP has 39.2 percent. Approximately 52 percent of the votes have been counted in the metropolis.

In the capital Ankara, where around 19 percent of the votes have been recorded, the AKP leads with 46.2 percent of the votes followed by the CHP with 39.9 percent.

Around 21 percent of the votes have been counted in the Aegean city of Izmir, the country's third largest city, where the CHP leads with 47.3 percent followed by AKP with 37.1 percent.

Yavas claims victory

Mansur Yavas, the CHP's candidate for Ankara, has declared victory, blaming the media for manipulation. His claim to victory has been rejected by his AKP opponent Ibrahim Melih Gokcek, the current mayor.

Haluk Koc, a CHP spokesman, has also said that his party leads in all three major cities, blaming Anatolia and certain media networks for manipulation.

More than 50 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in Turkey's local elections.

The AKP, which swept to power in 2002 on a platform of eradicating the corruption that blights Turkish life, hopes on Sunday to equal or better its overall 2009 vote of 38.8 percent.

Erdogan crisscrossed the nation of 77 million during weeks of hectic campaigning to rally his conservative core voters, during which he temporarily lost his voice.

His government has purged thousands of people from the judiciary and police since December following the anti-corruption raids targeting businessmen close to Erdogan and sons of ministers.

The prime minister said that those behind the investigations were trying to form a "state within a state" or “parallel state”, blaming the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Turkish cleric whose followers are apparently highly influential in Turkey's police forces and judiciary. Many analysts say that the two sides used to be allies in the past in their struggle against Turkey's politically dominant military.

CHP portrays Erdogan as a corrupt "dictator" ready to hang on to power by any means. Capture of the capital Ankara or Istanbul would allow them to claim some form of victory.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies