Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party submitted on Tuesday a formal request to annul and rerun municipal elections in Istanbul.
The AK Party cited irregularities in the vote, prompting the main opposition to accuse it of damaging democracy.
Initial results from the March 31 vote showed the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) narrowly won control of Turkey’s largest city, thereby ending 25 years of control of a key power center by the AKP and its predecessors.
The loss of Istanbul, Turkey’s financial hub, would be a blow to Erdogan, who campaigned hard ahead of the vote. The post-vote uncertainty has kept financial markets on edge and contributed to a nearly 5 percent slide in the lira.
In the 16 days since the election, the AKP has filed numerous appeals for vote recounts across Istanbul. The High Election Board (YSK) has approved some of those objections, ordering partial or full recounts in several districts. Some are still underway.
Submitting his party’s appeal for the annulment and renewal of the vote to the YSK on Tuesday, AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said thousands of votes had been impacted by the irregularities.
“There is clearly an organized unlawfulness, an election fraud here. The only authority that can end this controversy is the YSK,” Yavuz told reporters in the capital Ankara.
The AKP has already lost control of Ankara and other key cities. Defeat in Istanbul, where Erdogan was mayor in the 1990s, would be an even greater setback to the president.
The AKP urged electoral officials to block the YSK from giving CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu his mayoral mandate after the Istanbul recounts are completed and a final result emerges.
CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak branded the AKP appeal for renewed elections as a “plot” and called on the YSK to mandate Imamoglu as the elected mayor of the city.
“The authority that will put a stop to this exploitation, who will hand the right the people gave to the person who earned it is the High Election Board,” Oztrak told reporters.
“If there is security and predictability of the law in this country, then the YSK’s decision should already be clear.”
The board is expected to rule on the ruling party's request after all recounts are complete. If it accepts the AKP's objection, Istanbul could repeat the election on June 2.
The AKP’s Yavuz said 16,884 votes were marked as either invalid or added to the tallies of other parties in the elections. He said the AKP had submitted three suitcases of documents to the YSK to prove the irregularities.
If the appeal is approved, a second election would take place on June 2. If rejected, the results would be finalized and the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu would receive his mandate as mayor.
Yavuz said the gap between Imamoglu and his AKP rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, had fallen to 13,900 votes from around 28,000 as a result of the recounts.
On Monday, Yildirim said the elections were tarnished with "irregularities, mistakes, stains, vote thievery, among others."
Prior to the elections, his party had said the safety of ballot boxes was guaranteed.
If all votes had been recounted across the city the AKP would have won, Yavuz added.
Speaking on Tuesday to supporters chanting “give Imamoglu the mandate” in Istanbul, Imamoglu said the AKP actions harmed the credibility of Turkey’s democracy.
“To those who said they carried what they call evidence in suitcases, I say: I think you are experiencing an eclipse of reasoning. Stop this, don’t harm this nation, these people,” he said.
Istanbul, with its 15 million residents and strategic location straddling Europe and Asia, is Turkey's financial and cultural heart. It made up 31 percent of Turkey's GDP of $851 billion in 2017 and draws millions of tourists.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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