Turkish authority removes 13 district election chiefs ahead of Istanbul vote

Turkey’s electoral authority said it had removed from office 13 of its district heads in Istanbul, less than three weeks before the city holds a rerun of mayoral elections that are an important test of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s grip on power.

The Supreme Election Council (YSK) first declared secular main opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu winner of the March 31 vote to elect a new mayor of the sprawling metropolis of some 16 million people, but then ordered the polls be held again after Erdoğan’s Islamists, who have controlled the city council since 1994, alleged ballot irregularities.

The YSK said it had voted seven votes to four to cancel the election on the grounds that some Istanbul district election councils had appointed heads to balloting committees overseeing the vote who were not public servants as is required by law. Though the same thing happened elsewhere in Turkey during the March 31 nationwide local elections, and during presidential and parliamentary polls last year, only the Istanbul mayoral vote was cancelled.

The YSK also did not annul the elections for the municipal council, district mayors and neighbourhood heads, won overwhelmingly by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), even though they were held at the same time and voters placed the ballot papers in the same envelopes.

New polls to elect a mayor of Istanbul will now be held on June 23.

YSK head Sadi Güven said in a statement quoted by Hürriyet newspaper that 13 of the election council’s 39 district heads in the city had been removed from office and appointed to other provinces in the country.

Barış Yarkadaş, a member of parliament for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), said on Twitter on Wednesday that the head of the election council in Istanbul’s Büyükçekmece district had resigned and asked for early retirement due to political pressure.

The AKP said after March 31 polls that there were severe irregularities in the electoral records of Büyükçekmece. But the YSK did not annul the mayoral vote in the district despite the AKP appeal.