Prosecutors open Istanbul elections probe; re-run still looms

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish prosecutors launched 32 investigations into allegations of irregularities in Istanbul’s local elections and summoned more than 100 polling station officials for questioning as suspects, state-owned Anadolu news agency said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, April 30, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

The main opposition secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), in alliance with smaller parties, won the mayoralty in Istanbul and Ankara, ending a quarter century of control by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessors.

Erdogan has called for the annulment and re-run of the Istanbul vote, a prospect that has kept Turkish financial markets on edge since the March 31 elections.

The High Election Board (YSK) is yet to rule on the AKP challenge to the Istanbul election result, but it has ordered district electoral officials in Istanbul to carry out inspections into their respective ballot box officials in its interim rulings.

Anadolu said the investigations focused on Istanbul’s Maltepe, Kadikoy and Atasehir districts, all three of which were won by the CHP.

The suspects are being questioned over allegations of violations of election law and abuse of position in counting votes and entering dates, it said.

Part of the criminal complaints were filed by the AKP and its ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), while others were filed by district election boards, it said.

The Istanbul prosecutor’s office declined to comment.

AKP deputy chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said biased individuals were selected as ballot box officials ahead of the election as part of an orchestrated effort.

“We very clearly see that there have been some fully organized work and operations to cheat at the ballot boxes, starting from two years ago,” he said, adding that criminal complaints would be filed against others as well.

The CHP said the probes did not indicate any irregularities or unlawful acts had taken place and added that the inspections provided no reason for annulment.

“As a result of the inspections completed by the District Election Boards after the YSK’s interim rulings, there are no findings that require an annulment of the elections,” the CHP’s legal commission said.

“Prosecutors seeking testimonies as part of the appeals is routine and does not mean there were irregularities in the elections,” it said on Twitter.

A potential re-run of the elections in Istanbul was initially scheduled for June 2, but the YSK may choose a later date if it rules that way.

Separately, Erdogan ordered for a monthly cut to some funds transferred from the Treasury to municipality budgets in a presidential decree published in the Official Gazette.

According to the ruling, the Treasury will deliver a monthly cut of 5 percent to transferring the revenues obtained from the metro systems built by the Transport Ministry and operated by the municipality.

Reporting by Daren Butler and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, and Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Alison Williams