May 22 2019

Istanbul vote not stolen, says Turkey's election council

Updated

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) on Wednesday published its reasoning for annulling the March 31 Istanbul mayoral vote, making no mention of the vote theft repeatedly claimed by ruling party officials. 

The May 6 decision to cancel the initial result, which had main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu beating his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) opponent by a slim margin, led to the scheduling of a rerun election on June 23.

Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic powerhouse, is also of great symbolic significance to the AKP, whose politicians have held the mayor’s seat for the past 25 years.

Factions of the AKP had called for a rerun since the initial results were announced, and after the YSK’s made its ruling that party has adopted the line that the election was “stolen” the first time round.

Yet the YSK has made no mention of vote theft, in its initial ruling or in the 250-page reasoning published on Wednesday.

Rather, the council’s decision rested on the presence of polling committee chairs at 754 ballots who participated in the election and vote count despite not meeting a regulation stating they must be public officials.

The decision added that the selection process had not met standards, and said political parties had not been able to lodge appeals regarding the electoral officials because they had not received the lists in time.

It also listed irregularities and breaches during the voting and counting process, which included 706 votes cast by people with no right to vote and 108 ballot boxes that were missing crucial paperwork.

Opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate İmamoğlu reacted to the YSK report detailing the reasoning for cancelling the polls, saying the council owed the 16 million people of Istanbul an apology, independent news site T24 reported.

"Those 250 pages do not mean anything to me... The report gives zero reasoning,’’ İmamoğlu said.

"They speak of over 700 ballots where non-civil servants were present. How many votes are there that could affect the outcome? Did I receive an 50,000 extra votes in those ballots?’’ the 48-year-old added.

The AKP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yıldırım also spoke on the report.

"The YSK was not about to use the discourse of one side and state that the votes had been stolen,’ Yıldırım said, adding that the AKP had used the wording as a "vernacular.’’

"If the votes weren't been stolen how did the difference between the candidates fall from 29,400 to 13,700 (following recounts)?’’ Yıldırım added. "If there was an injustice on both ends, then should both candidates not lose or gain votes?’’

The YSK's reasoning, however, is not likely to lay to rest controversy around the decision, which many in Turkey and abroad believe was made under pressure from the government.

“This decision is a disgrace to democracy and the perpetrator is unfortunately the [presidential] palace,’’ main opposition CHP said on Wednesday regarding the YSK's report.

CHP spokesperson Faik Öztrak noted that the YSK had “whipped up’’ justification for their decision to cancel the polls and the report made no mention of stolen votes. 

“This decision has once again demonstrated that Ekrem İmamoğlu is the mayor of the 16 million people of Istanbul,” Öztrak added. 

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu refrained from commenting on the report, saying that he would have to read it first.

The four dissenting YSK judges out of 11 published their own reasoning for opposing the annulment, with many of the points they lay out sure to bolster the opposition’s arguments against the rerun.

Central to their argument was the presence of representatives from various political parties at each polling committee, which they said made the chance of the disqualified polling officials influencing the vote’s outcome insignificant.

Moreover, they said, further investigations had found that many of the irregularities referred to in the detailed reasoning had no effect on the vote count.

The data from ballot boxes which were missing important signatures, for example, was discovered to have been uploaded to the electronic count without fault, said YSK president Said Güven, one of the dissenting judges.

Güven added that AKP members had been on duty at 750 of the 754 ballot boxes presided over by chairs disqualified for not being public officials.

Kürşat Hamurcu, another of the dissenting judges, said there was been no clear, concrete and directly obtainable evidence to back the claims made in the AKP's appeal. 

"Voters went to the polls in accordance with their constitutional right to vote," said a third dissenting judge, Cengiz Topaktaş. "If there was a fault with the formation of polling committees, the voters should not be forced to bear the responsibility for that."

The fourth dissenting judge, Yunus Akın, said the decision went against precedent set by the YSK, which he said had turned down similar appeals in previous elections.

"It is not an absolute condition for the polling committee heads to be public officials," he said.

Akın went on to say that the presence of the 754 polling committee heads against regulations was not grounds to contradict constitutional and international laws by discounting the votes cast at their ballot boxes.

© Ahval English