AKP veterans voice discontent after decision to rerun Istanbul election

Voices within Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have risen in protest against the decision on Monday to cancel the opposition’s victory in the March 31 local election and run the vote again.

Critics of the decision have included a former president, Abdullah Gül, and a former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, stoking speculation that sidelined and disillusioned AKP politicians are preparing to launch a breakaway party.

The Supreme Election Council (YSK)’s decision came after the AKP appealed against the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate’s slim victory on March 31, alleging “serious irregularities” in the vote.

Opposition figures have decried the pressure placed on the council, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged on Saturday to rerun the election.

The YSK said the reason for ruling in the AKP’s favour was that polling officials had been appointed despite not meeting the requirement that they are public servants.

However, the opposition countered, the same officials were appointed in previous elections that have not been cancelled, nor have the district elections that were included on the same ballot papers as the Istanbul mayoral election in March.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former AKP prime minister who was forced out in 2016 after an apparent power struggle with party officials close to the president, appears to share the opposition’s concerns about the validity of the YSK’s decision.


In a series of tweets published on Tuesday evening, Davutoğlu said events after the Istanbul election and the decision to annul it had harmed the “basic values” of Turkey’s democracy – that voters had the final word at the ballot box.

“The biggest loss for a political movement is not an election, but the loss of moral superiority and social conscience”, said the former prime minister, who signalled a possible split from the ruling party after the election in a Facebook “manifesto” criticising its current direction and nationalist turn.

Since before the election, Davutoğlu has been a subject of major speculation for Turkish newspaper columnists, who have reported rumours the former prime minister is preparing to launch a centre-right political party with other disgruntled AKP politicians.

Another source of never-ending speculation, former AKP president Abdullah Gül, also denounced the YSK’s decision via Twitter on Tuesday.

Gül compared the decision to a decision taken by the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest legal body in 2007, when he was out forward as a candidate for the presidency.

At the time, presidential candidates were voten in by parliament, and in a decision many viewed as designed to block Gül, whose Islamist background was viewed with suspicion by many judges at the time, the court ruled that at least 367 deputies must take part in a vote for it to be valid.

“What I felt in 2007 when the Constitutional Court made its unfair ruling number 367, that is what I felt yesterday when another high court, the Supreme Election Council, made its decision”, Gül said in his tweet on Tuesday.

Like Davutoğlu, Gül has been frequently cited as a possible candidate to run against Erdoğan or to launch a rival party. Their recent criticisms of the AKP have been interpreted as a sign of rising discontent within a party that has proven remarkably unified and robust over its 17 years in power.

However, their past as leading figures in the party did not spare either politician from the criticism of circles loyal to Erdoğan.

“People’s reading these statements will think citizens had their right to vote stolen from them”, said Halime Kökçe, a journalist at the pro-government daily Star.

“Those who put the YSK’s decision, made after the AKP used its democratic right to appeal an election, on a level with the weird ruling 367 – the depths they’ve fallen to is truly deplorable”, she said.