Turkish police probe fraud as Erdoğan party demands election re-run

(Story was updated with AKP demand to re-run election in headline, fourth paragraph.)

Turkish police launched an operation in Istanbul’s Büyükcekmece district to investigate alleged election fraud as the ruling party demanded that a vote for city mayor be re-run.

The operation started early on Tuesday, local media reported. Police were visiting addresses where voters were allegedly registered illegally, including homes and business premises, they said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday called on the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to fully investigate what he called a criminal operation at the Istanbul election, won by opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, according to initial results. Erdoğan said theft had been carried out at the ballot boxes.

On Tuesday, Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said that voter fraud had been committed in Büyükçekmece by registering 11,186 voters who did not live there. The YSK should now re-run the March 31 election, AKP deputy chief Ali Ihsan Yavuz said, citing the police operation. The central government controls the nation's police force through the Interior Ministry and local governors, who Erdoğan has the power to replace.

The voters were registered at addresses including empty fields and a garage for trucks, according to Sabah newspaper, which has close ties to the government.

The YSK this week rejected a request by the AKP for a full recount in Istanbul, but said it would rule on Büyükçekmece at a later date. Yavuz labelled the YSK's decision as unfathomable in light of the irregularities committed.

The AKP and its Islamic predecessor have ruled Istanbul for 25 years, appointing their supporters to municipal offices and altering the city's landscape, including building bridges, a new mega airport and a huge mosque over the Bosporus.

Earlier on Tuesday, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said the YSK's rejection of a recount in Turkey's largest city provided further proof that İmamoğlu won the vote. In a statement on Twitter, it called on its supporters to help it protect ballot boxes until İmamoğlu took office.

Devlet Bahceli, whose Nationalist Action Party (MHP) entered into an alliance with the AKP for the election, lent his support for a full re-run of the vote in comments on Tuesday. 

Western governments including the United States have urged Erdoğan's AKP to ensure that the March 31 election process ends fairly. Erdoğan criticised the statements as interference in Turkey's democracy, which he says is strong.

Erdoğan won another term as president last June with vastly increased powers in a vote also marred by allegations of irregularities. CHP politicians accuse Erdoğan of acting like a dictator. The CHP is also considering taking the YSK to the country's highest court for breaking its own laws, according to local media.

Turkey's lira and stock market have fallen on concern that the AKP will succeed in overhauling the result for Istanbul, stoking political tensions and further compromising Turkey's reputation as a democracy.

The lira rose 0.3 percent to 5.67 per dollar at 3:38 p.m. local time, partially reversing losses made on Monday. The stock market gained 1.2 percent to 98,114 points.