ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s main opposition party said on Wednesday it had formally requested the annulment of President Tayyip Erdogan’s mandate because the same flaws his AK Party alleged in the city’s March 31 mayoral vote occurred in last year’s national elections.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) also said votes for Istanbul officials and councils, submitted in the same envelopes as the mayoral election, should be canceled if the mayoral vote is re-run. The AK Party (AKP) won a majority in the councils.
After weeks of appeals by the AKP and their nationalist MHP allies, Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) ruled on Monday for a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election, which was dramatically won by the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu with a razor-thin majority.
It was the first time in 25 years that the AKP or its Islamist predecessors had failed to win control of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city with a budget of close to $4 billion. Erdogan launched his own political career as Istanbul mayor.
In its ruling, which also annulled Imamoglu’s mandate, the YSK cited irregularities in the appointment of polling station officials. Erdogan’s party said the fact that individuals who were not public servants had been appointed to the polling stations amounted to organized crime.
However, the YSK left results for district administrators, municipal councils and local officials unchanged, a decision which the CHP said was nonsense because all four votes were cast in the same envelopes and counted by the same polling officials.
“If you’re revoking Ekrem Imamoglu’s mandate ... then you must also annul President Erdogan’s mandate because the same laws, same regulations, same applications, same polling stations and conditions were present in both elections,” CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek told reporters.
“Why are you not cancelling the results that came out of the same envelopes?” he said.
A video posted on the AKP’s Twitter account said the YSK had not ruled that all the elections must be re-run in Istanbul because the number of “suspicious” votes it had identified would not affect the outcome of the district council polls.
In his first comments after the YSK’s decision, Erdogan said on Tuesday that the elections had been marred by “organized irregularity”.
The United States, which has had tetchy relations with Erdogan, issued a statement on the re-run, saying that “we, like other friends of Turkey, take note of this extraordinary decision”.
“Turkey has a long, proud democratic tradition. We urge Turkish authorities to carry out this election in keeping with its laws, and in a manner that is consistent with its OSCE commitments, its status as a NATO ally, and its aspirations for membership in the European Union,” the statement from State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
Asked about the ruling, Imamoglu said democracy was the victim.
“The municipal council, crystal clear. The local officials, great. The district administrators, also okay. But the mayoral, there is an issue there,” he told Turkey’s Fox TV late on Tuesday. “When Ekrem Imamoglu wins as mayor, you complain of irregularities. How can this be in line with anyone’s morals?”
Imamoglu is portraying the election re-run as a battle for democracy in Turkey, maintaining since Monday’s ruling the upbeat and defiant tone of his original election campaign.
In a video interview with online newspaper T24 broadcast on Wednesday, Imamoglu said he did not expect the election board to accept the CHP’s request.
Responding to his appeal for support in a fiery speech after the announcement, around a million people including several prominent artists have used the hashtag #HerSeyCokGuzelOlacak (Everything Will be Alright) to show their solidarity.
The Union of Turkish Bar Associations (TBB), representing Turkey’s top lawyers, has said the YSK’s ruling had no legal basis and demanded that it publish a detailed justification.
The YSK has yet to set out its reasoning, which it is legally obliged to do. It was also not immediately clear when it would rule on the CHP’s appeal.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Tuesday accused the YSK of betraying voters’ trust, saying the seven members who voted in favor of the re-run were “gang members” who bowed to the wishes of the AKP.
State-owned Anadolu news agency quoted the YSK on Wednesday as condemning Kilicdaroglu’s comments, saying he should not be allowed to insult members of the judiciary.
Challenges to the election results have unnerved financial markets and put pressure on the already ailing lira, which tumbled to its weakest level since October after the YSK scrapped the vote.
The lira stood at 6.1830 against the dollar at 1451 GMT on Wednesday, as investors questioned Turkey’s commitment to both the rule of law and economic reforms during a recession.
“The elections will be repeated in Istanbul, but they will be felt across the whole country,” the TBB said in its statement.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones and Catherine Evans