Electoral officials sat silently during talks to cancel Istanbul election

The controversial decision to cancel the Istanbul metropolitan mayor’s election and repeat the vote on June 23 has sparked comments and speculation from politicians, journalists and ordinary citizens of Turkey of all political stripes.

Yet the seven Supreme Election Council (YSK) members who voted to cancel the election remained silent during talks over the decision on Monday, said Muharrem Sarıkaya, a veteran columnist writing for the pro-government outlet HaberTürk.

Sarıkaya reported on the meeting as it was described to him by Mehmet Hadimi Yakupoğlu, a representative of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who attended the talks.

The decision to cancel the Istanbul election means the CHP’s Ekrem İmamoğlu, who won the March 31 vote by around 13,000 votes, has been stripped of his mayor’s mandate and will run again against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s Binali Yıldırım on June 23.

It was a decision taken after more than a month of appeals and accusations by the AKP, capped on May 4 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statement that the March 31 vote had been marred by irregularities and call for a rerun.

In the end the YSK’s reasoning for its decision – that electoral boards had appointed polling officials who did not meet regulations – only added to the controversy, since several elections overseen by the same officials on the same day were not cancelled.

Moreover, the cancellation of the Istanbul election was based on an “extraordinary appeal” rather than the legal definition “complete illegality” since the latter would give grounds to cancel the last two nationwide elections held in Turkey, Sarıkaya said.

Last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections and the constitutional referendum in 2017 were overseen by the same electoral boards, including polling officials who did not meet the requirement of being public servants.

While the CHP representative at the meeting said the YSK’s decision should relate to the “complete illegality” definition, the representatives from the AKP and its far-right ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) demanded that the council should proceed according to the extraordinary appeal.

Throughout five hours of discussions, the seven YSK members who voted to cancel the election remained silent, Sarıkaya reported.

Four of the council’s 11 members, including YSK President Said Güven, voted against cancelling the election.