Turkey’s Erdoğan signals rerun of contested Istanbul polls

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Saturday his support for a mayoral election rerun in Istanbul, where opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu won a victory on March 31, independent news site T24 reported.

"There is a controversy here, it's clear. There is an irregularity here, that's clear too. Let's go to the people and see what they say and whatever the outcome, we will accept it," Erdogan said while addressing businesspeople in Istanbul.

Erdoğan’s comments follows a move by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which lost control of Turkey’s most populous five provinces in the March 31 mayoral elections, to file an appeal to Turkey's Supreme Election Council (YSK) to annul the election in Istanbul, citing irregularities and fraud at the ballot boxes. The council is expected to announce its decision on Monday.

"The removal of this fraud will both exonerate the YSK and work to relieve the hearts of our nation,’’ the Turkish president added.

Erdoğan also said the main opposition CHP had threatened the YSK and asked the council’s Chairman Said Güven why he had not released a written statement on the matter.

According to analysts, AKP’s loss in Istanbul was a huge blow to Erdoğan who launched his political career by becoming mayor of Turkey’s biggest city and financial centre in 1994 and has ruled the country since 2003.

CHP’s İmamoğlu received the certificate he needs to take office 17 days after the local elections after the ruling AKP and its far-right allies disputed the results and demanded a partial recount of the March 31 polls in Istanbul. 

Despite Erdoğan’s statements, seen as interference in the YSK’s pending decision on the appeal for the rerun of the Istanbul elections, the CHP seems confident that the YSK will cancel the elections.

The party’s Istanbul provincial head, Canan Kaftancıoğlu, shared on Saturday on social media the results of the YSK investigation launched upon the AKP’s appeal.

The ruling party in its appeal said there were 41,132 voters in Istanbul banned from casting their votes for being convicted or for medical reasons. The report Kaftancıoğlu shared on Twitter shows that, according to YSK, the total number of banned voters in Istanbul’s 39 districts was only 766.

“I wonder if the table below will make some people blush. It is clear and obvious that the YSK will overturn the appeal on Monday according to those results,” Kaftancıoğlu said.

Istanbul’s new mayor İmamoğlu responded to Erdoğan on Saturday, while speaking to his supporters in Kadıköy district. The freshly elected mayor said, while the AKP had appealed the results of the mayoral race, it had not challenged the Istanbul municipality council vote, in which the ruling party had won the majority.

“They say that in all votes that were cast in the same boxes, there is fraud only in metropolitan mayoral election. This will make even the crows laugh,” İmamoğlu said.

CHP Deputy President and Party Spokesman Faik Öztrak following Erdoğan’s statements on rerunning the Istanbul election, said the government had rolled up its sleeves to steal the election the main opposition party won at the ballot boxes.

"Those who direct this crime and those who commit this crime may find themselves at the Supreme Criminal Court in the end,’’ Öztrak said.

Erdal Aksünger, a member of the CHP party assembly, said on Twitter that Erdoğan’s words did not mean that the Turkish president indeed wanted a do-over election.

“The established profit group in the AKP that is fed from Istanbul is exerting extreme pressure. Losing Istanbul is also bringing about their end,” the politician said.

Mehmet Bekaroğlu, a CHP lawmaker from Istanbul, told Mezopotampya News Agency on Saturday that the YSK would make a historical decision next week. Bekaroğlu said the AKP’s claims that there had been irregularities in the appointment of balloting committees did not justify a decision of absolute lawlessness required for the YSK to annul the vote.

Prosecutors in Ankara this week launched 32 different investigations into possible electoral fraud and irregularities during the vote for Istanbul mayor, inviting more than 100 ballot box supervisors to testify as suspects.

“Four different ballots were put in the same envelopes and given to the same balloting committees. I think elections will not be annulled and should not be annulled,” the politician said.

According to Bekaroğlu, if the YSK annuls the Istanbul vote on Monday, it will put the last nail to the coffin of Turkish democracy.

In the case of a re-run, İmamoğlu would win again, this time with a higher margin of 200,000 to 250,000 votes, Bekaroğlu said.

“Presidential and parliamentary elections will follow. Turkey’s government will change,” he added, implying a rerun of election in Istanbul will turn into a referendum over Erdoğan’s presidency.