ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) will demand a new vote in Istanbul, a senior party official said on Tuesday after its bid was rejected for a citywide recount of March 31 election results that appeared to hand the party defeat.
Initial results show the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) narrowly won control of Turkey’s biggest city in the mayoral elections, seemingly bringing an end to the 25-year rule there by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.
Since the vote, the AKP has filed a series of requests for recounts in the city. Overnight, the High Election Board (YSK) rejected a request to recount all votes across 31 of Istanbul’s districts, the party’s representative at the YSK said.
The YSK agreed only to a recount of 51 ballot boxes, spread across 21 of the city’s total 39 districts, but the AKP called this decision “unfathomable”.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul, AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said his party would file an extraordinary appeal to the YSK for a fresh vote in Istanbul over what he said were irregularities that directly impacted the outcome.
“We will file our extraordinary appeal today. We will say that there have been events that directly impacted the outcome of the elections and that we demand the renewal of the elections in Istanbul,” Yavuz said. He later tweeted that the appeal could happen “in coming days”.
He said if the YSK rejected the party’s appeal to renew the votes, doubt over the elections would remain until the next mayoral elections are due in five years.
Erdogan said on Monday the local elections were marred by “organized crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul, raising the possibility of re-running the vote in the city of some 15 million residents.
Erdogan’s comments, his strongest challenge yet to the election process in Istanbul, briefly drove the lira down and also weighed on Turkish stocks. The lira was steady at 5.6850 to the dollar on Tuesday.
In Istanbul, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu called on the YSK to finalize the election results as soon as possible and said the AKP was to blame for the uncertainty surrounding the vote.
“If they’re looking for the perpetrators, they should look in the mirror. Look in the mirror if you want to see who is responsible for this,” he said.
The loss in Istanbul, if confirmed, would be a setback for Erdogan’s efforts to pull Turkey out of recession. He has dominated Turkish politics for more than 16 years on the back of stellar economic growth.
To justify its calls for recounts and for a full re-run of the elections, the AKP said there were illegal appointments of representatives at ballot boxes and irregularities across the city.
The CHP said the AKP’s appeals were unlawful.
“You are complaining and appealing nonstop, and this shows one of two things. Either you are so incompetent that you can’t even get an election right, or you are such sore losers that you can’t accept defeat,” CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said.
The YSK’s decision on the AKP’s appeal for a fresh vote in Istanbul will be final. If rejected, the ongoing recounts across the city will be completed and the results finalised.
If the appeal is accepted, the re-run of elections in Istanbul would be held on the first Sunday 60 days after the initial elections, which would be June 2.
Erdogan’s party also lost the mayoralty in the capital Ankara to CHP candidate Mansur Yavas despite seeking recounts across the city. Yavas received his mandate on Monday after the YSK upheld the initial results.
Erdogan said the scale of irregularities his party had uncovered meant the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates, currently at less than 15,000 in a city of 10 million voters, was too narrow for the opposition to claim victory.
However, his AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim had declared victory by some 3,000 votes in Istanbul on election night, before conceding that Imamoglu held a lead.
Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry