April 4, 2019 / 10:21 AM / 5 months ago

Turkey expands Istanbul vote recount after ruling party challenges losses

ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Election officials expanded a vote recount in Istanbul late on Thursday, CNN Turk said, as the ruling party of President Tayyip Erdogan pushed its appeal against its shock defeat there in local elections.

Supporters of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) cheer in front of the party's headquarters as they celebrate the municipal elections results in Ankara, Turkey, March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

Erdogan’s AK Party said it would also demand a wider check on votes across the capital Ankara - which initial results suggested it also narrowly lost in Sunday’s vote in a major blow to the establishment.

Those losses, if confirmed, would be particularly painful for Erdogan, whose party and its predecessor have dominated the two cities for 25 years. He launched his political career in Istanbul and served as the city’s mayor in the 1990s.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s High Election Board had ordered a full recount in three of Istanbul’s 39 districts and a recount of just invalid ballots in 15 districts after an appeal from Erdogan’s AKP.

Late on Thursday the board decided there would be a full recount in those 15 districts as well, CNN Turk said.

Turkey’s main opposition candidate in Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, told Reuters it looked like his lead had narrowed to around 19,500 votes from an earlier 25,000 as the recount progressed, but he was sure he would still become mayor.

“The results will not change. Time is passing and Istanbul is waiting for service, so we just want to get to our job as soon as possible,” said Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

“The mathematics and numbers are clear,” Imamoglu told Reuters. “There is no need to think of a Plan B right now.”

Imamoglu later said on Twitter that recounts in Istanbul’s 14 districts, where there were a total of 89,255 invalid votes, had been completed, and added that he was 18,871 votes ahead of his rival.

The AKP’s representative on the election board, Recep Ozel, told broadcaster A Haber earlier on Thursday that the difference in Istanbul would keep falling and his candidate, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, would emerge the winner in Turkey’s commercial hub.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara, AKP spokesman Omer Celik said the steps taken for recounts were not extraordinary.

“All citizens should remain calm. Our democracy is showing its strength as it always has,” Celik said. “Let the law work and let’s respect the outcome.”

RECESSION CHALLENGE

Ahead of the elections, the CHP formed an electoral alliance with the Iyi (Good) Party to rival the alliance between the AKP and their nationalist MHP partners. They named joint candidates in certain cities, including Ankara and Istanbul.

In Ankara, opposition candidate Mansur Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes on Sunday to earn a nearly 4 percentage point victory over his AKP rival, former minister Mehmet Ozhaseki.

The AKP also appealed against those results, prompting the election board to order a recount in 11 of the city’s districts.

But AKP Secretary General Fatih Sahin said on Thursday that the results of the recount so far were “far from meeting our expectations” and the party would appeal for another recount across the city.

If the initial results are confirmed, the CHP will gain control of municipal budgets with an estimated total value of 32.6 billion liras ($5.79 billion) for 2019 in Istanbul and Ankara.

Erdogan would likely also lose some oversight for municipal contracts in the two cities, possibly complicating his efforts to drag the Turkish economy out of recession.

In another sign of public backlash, the AKP-MHP alliance also lost control of the southern coastal cities of Antalya, Mersin and Adana, the central provinces of Bolu and Kirsehir, and the eastern cities of Artvin, Igdir and Ardahan.

The CHP has said that Kurdish votes coming from the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) had helped them win narrow victories in key provinces, after the HDP chose not to name candidates in some cities and back the opposition instead.

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power 16 years ago and ruled his country with an ever tighter grip, campaigned relentlessly for two months ahead of Sunday’s vote, which he described as a “matter of survival” for Turkey.

A woman walks past by AK Party billboards with pictures of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and mayoral candidate Binali Yildirim in Istanbul, Turkey, April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

In some 100 rallies during his election campaign, Erdogan described the opposition as terrorist supporters and said his central government could not provide services if it wasn’t in harmony with local administrations.

But the president’s efforts came up against widespread anger about Turkey’s recession, which has brought surging inflation and unemployment, and caused the lira to plunge.

Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to volatility in the currency, which sold off sharply nearly two weeks ago, reflecting waning confidence among both Turks and international investors. It closed at 5.63 to the dollar on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Andrew Heavens and James Dalgleish

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