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Appeals spark frustration as Istanbul vote count enters third week

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s High Election Board overturned a local decision to order a second recount of votes in an Istanbul district on Monday, rejecting the latest appeal by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party against results showing it lost city hall.

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) wave as they listen to mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu during a gathering in Istanbul, Turkey, April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Initial results of the March 31 nationwide local elections showed the main opposition CHP narrowly won control of Turkey’s largest city, a stunning setback for Erdogan who had campaigned hard for his AKP in the city where he launched his own career.

Repeated AKP challenges have led to growing frustration among CHP supporters, which spilled over onto the football terraces at the weekend when Istanbul’s top teams played two derby matches.

“Give the mandate, give Imamoglu the mandate now,” fans of Besiktas and Fenerbahce chanted, as their teams played league leaders Basaksehir and runners-up Galatasaray.

Initial results give secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who attended both matches, a lead of around 0.2 percentage points over his AK Party rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim.

The loss of Ankara ended 25 years of control over the capital by the AK Party and its Islamist predecessors. Defeat in Istanbul, where Erdogan was mayor in the 1990s, would be an even greater blow to the president who has dominated Turkish politics through a decade and half of repeated election triumphs.

On Monday electoral officials in the Maltepe district of Istanbul, where a recount of votes in 1,089 ballot boxes had already been underway for nearly a week, ruled that nearly half of them would need to be counted for a third time.

But later on Monday, the High Election Board (YSK) overturned this decision, meaning all that remains is to finish the earlier recount.

The AKP and its nationalist MHP allies have already filed several other objections across Istanbul and have appealed to annul the elections in another district, Buyukcekmece.

Yildirim, the ruling party’s mayoral candidate, became on Monday the latest AKP figure to call for a repeat of the election: “This is an election that has become messed up from top to bottom,” he told a news conference.

The YSK has said it would wait for all recounts across the city to be completed before ruling on an AKP appeal to annul results in Buyukcekmece. After that it may have to rule on a call by Erdogan - not yet formally submitted by the AKP - for the entire Istanbul election to be annulled.


CHP lawmaker Baris Yarkdas said his party has asked the YSK to consider previous recounts as valid and to speed up recounts across Istanbul by forming 100 new counting teams.

“The AKP-MHP was planning to get different results by having the ballot boxes in Maltepe recounted. When the results did not come out as they wished, they are now not signing the record sheets of the judges (officials) so the count can’t be finished,” Yarkdas said on Twitter.

He said the AKP and MHP were driving the process into an impasse, and putting public servants under pressure. “The party state is crushing the law,” he said.

MHP leader Devlet Bahceli appeared to criticise Imamoglu for mixing sport with politics by attending the weekend matches.

“Carrying the mandate to the stadium is a seed planted to turn the competition between the sides into animosity. He can’t be mayor,” he said.

Imamoglu responded: “I told my friends I would attend these games before the elections. Are Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas not teams of this city? I will go.”

Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff