Tensions rise over disputed Istanbul vote - WSJ

Two weeks after Turkey’s March 31 elections, the race to become Istanbul mayor remains undecided, hinting at greater polarisation amid a tense legal battle for control of the country’s largest and most economically important city, the Wall Street Journal reported.   

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party conceded defeat in the capital Ankara and several other cities on March 31, which marked “a stunning setback for the conservative and pro-Islam powerhouse, which has dominated Turkish politics for the past 17 years,” the WSJ said on Sunday.

“The results have exposed mounting discontent with Mr. Erdoğan at a time that Turkey is gripped by economic recession, runaway inflation and a fast-weakening currency,” WSJ said. “They have also showed that despite the Turkish leader’s increasing crackdown on political opponents and dissent, balloting has remained generally fair.”

In Istanbul, the AKP called for a recount after initial results handed a slim victory to Ekrem İmamoğlu, candidate for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). Recounts and corrections of tabulation errors have cut İmamoğlu’s lead in half, from some 28,000 votes to about 14,000.

“Losing the city wouldn’t only cut off the AKP from a system of political patronage largely conceived in the 1990s when Mr. Erdoğan was mayor, analysts say, it could also give an emboldened opposition economic power,” said WSJ.

İmamoğlu has repeatedly called for the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to declare a winner and give him his mandate, or mazbata, as Istanbul mayor. When he arrived at Beşiktaş stadium for a soccer match on Saturday evening, the crowd chanted: “Give him the mandate.”

The AKP said it has identified enough fraud to seek a citywide rerun of the vote.

“We’ve completed preparation,” the AKP’s Ali İhsan Yavuz said on Sunday. “We will deliver our petition and associated documents to the High Election Board very shortly.”

Such a request would test the integrity of Turkey’s election board, “a body that has displayed rare independence by releasing results unfavourable to the ruling party, but that may hesitate to confront Mr. Erdoğan, who has said a 14,000 vote gap was too narrow to designate a winner,” said the WSJ.

The Council of Europe, which deployed observers to monitor the vote, has urged Turkish authorities to respect the results.

“We call on the Turkish authorities to conclude the procedures for establishing the final results of the local elections in Istanbul as quickly as possible, and, more generally, to implement the decisions taken by the voters,” said a council leader.