Turkish election board decision casts confusion on Istanbul annulment

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has lodged an appeal with the country’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) over its appointment of polling station officials for the upcoming rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election.

The YSK announced on Monday its decision to allow the same district electoral boards that had overseen polling in the March 31 vote to repeat the process in the June 23 rerun.

The AKP has appealed against the decision, saying those boards are under investigation for their role in irregularities in the initial vote, secularist daily Cumhuriyet reported.

It is the latest in a long series of challenges from the AKP since its candidate, Binali Yıldırım, lost Istanbul to his main opposition Republican People’s Party rival, Ekrem İmamoğlu, by a slim margin on March 31.

The ruling party initially lodged a series of appeals demanding recounts of votes that had been deemed invalid in the first count, before alleging that serious irregularities had taken place in a call for the March 31 election to be annulled and rerun.

Polling committee chairs and officers must be public workers, but an investigation after the election found that 754 chairs were not. The opposition hit back that the same officials had been appointed in previous elections without protest.

On May 6, the YSK ruled in favour of the AKP, saying serious doubts had been cast on the March 31 vote by the presence of hundreds of ineligible polling committee chairs. Turkey’s opposition and international actors including the EU sharply criticised the decision, which they said was biased in favour of the ruling party.

If the AKP’s appeal is rejected, the YSK’s ruling on Monday will mean the same electoral boards that had appointed the ineligible chairs in the first vote will be in charge of selecting polling committees for June 23.

Yıldırım called the YSK’s decision ‘’exceptionally unfortunate,’’ adding that it has already “raised questions” about the June 23 rerun.

But in a further development on Monday, the YSK reversed its decision to prosecute the district boards that were found to have appointed ineligible people to the polling committees.

The decision not to prosecute the district boards raises questions about the AKP's claim that the appointment of ineligible officials was a sign of organised electoral fraud.