ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey’s local elections were marred by “organized crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul, raising the possibility of re-running a March 31 vote that handed a slim majority to the main opposition party.
Erdogan’s comments, his strongest challenge yet to the election process in Turkey’s largest city, briefly drove the lira down and also weighed on Turkish stocks.
Erdogan’s AK Party has already lost the mayoralty in the capital Ankara to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and is has appealed several stages of the count in Istanbul which showed a narrow CHP victory.
The Islamist-rooted AKP is reeling from the potential loss of both cities, which the party and its predecessors have governed for a quarter of a century. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.
Erdogan said the scale of electoral irregularities his party had uncovered meant the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates, less than 20,000 in a city of 10 million voters, was too narrow for the opposition to claim victory.
Speaking before departing for talks in Russia with President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan said voting in other countries, including the United States, was often re-run if the margin of victory was below 1 percent. “They believe that such tight margins do not give comfort to the public,” he said.
He gave no example of an election re-run in those circumstances.
The AKP has appealed to the High Election Board (YSK) for a full recount of votes cast in the election across all 39 districts of Istanbul. The YSK is looking into the AKP’s challenges but has not commented on Erdogan’s accusations.
“The citizens are telling us to protect their rights, they are complaining of organized crimes,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul. “And we, as political parties, have determined such organized crimes.”
Ekrem Imamoglu, the CHP’s Istanbul mayoral candidate, said on Monday he was still leading with a margin of some 15,500 votes - down from 25,000 - after up to 95 percent of partial recounts had been completed.
Erdogan said he would only accept the Istanbul result when the YSK had processed all the appeals.
“Nobody has the right to get in an election victory mood in a city of 10 million voters with a margin of 13,000-14,000. When the appeals have been completed, we will accept the result.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the secularist CHP, warned that the security of the election was in danger and called on the election board to be impartial. He added that Erdogan’s request for a full recount lacked a reasonable justification.
“Now the High Electoral Board has entered a process that damages the security of the ballot boxes, the security of the election. This is the real danger,” Kilicdaroglu told reporters in Ankara.
The Turkish lira weakened to as far as 5.7120 against the dollar on Monday after Erdogan’s remarks, before recovering to trade at 5.67 at 11.55 GMT. Istanbul’s BIST 100 share index was down 1.4 percent.
“Will the Istanbul election be repeated? This question has sent the lira down,” an Istanbul-based banker said. A resumption of weekly repo auctions by the Central Bank had added to lira weakness, the banker added.
The AKP had also sought recounts across Ankara, where initial results showed CHP candidate Mansur Yavas winning by four percentage points. But the YSK upheld the result and on Monday Yavas formally received his mandate as new mayor.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich