Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) has annulled the recent Istanbul mayoral election and ordered that it be held again.
The announcement reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency on Monday follows an appeal by Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which had refused to accept that it had been defeated by one from the main opposition secularist party in the March 31 local government elections.
The Istanbul election re-run will only be for the mayoral race, as the AKP had demanded. It will not be for the districts or municipal councils, the majority of which were lost by the opposition.
The Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu won the mayoral race in Istanbul against AKP’s Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister, with a majority of 28,000 votes in the March 31 elections.
AKP losing in the city where he started his political career as mayor in 1990s was a huge blow for Erdogan, who campaigned hard before the vote.
Following the announcement of the March 31 election result, the AKP quickly submitted a number of appeals to the YSK, claiming wide-spread voting irregularities.
The YSK ruled for full and partial recounts of votes in numerous districts across the city, which resulted in a drop Imamoglu’s winning margin to 13,900, leaving the outcome the same.
The AKP then filed an extraordinary objection to the YSK demanding the election’s annulment and that the election for Istanbul mayor be held again.
YSK majority ruling
The YSK on Monday ruled by a majority in favor of the AKP, drawing harsh criticism from the opposition parties, which have in the past questioned the electoral body’s independence and accused it of becoming a tool for the governing party.
The election board’s legal basis for the decision was 255 balloting committee chairmen and 3,500 more members’ not being government employees as required by the law. The judges argued the number of votes placed in the ballot boxes supervised by these people is enough to affect the election result.
As part of the ruling, CHP’s Imamoglu, who received his mayoral mandate 17 days after the elections due to vote recounts in the city, will have to step down as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor allowing got the appointment of a trustee mayor.
The interim mayor appointed by the Interior Ministry is expected to manage the post until the re-run of mayoral elections in Istanbul, which is scheduled to take place on June 23.
Meral Aksener, leader of the nationalist opposition Good Party (IYI), which has been an ally to the CHP during the March 31 local elections, made a statement very early on Tuesday.
“We will not be silent in the face of this civilian coup targeting our democracy and the will of our people,” Aksener said.
She also announced that opposition party leaders will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to determine ways to boycott a new vote to be held in Istanbul.
Illegal to win
CHP’s Deputy Chairman Onursal Adiguzel also reacted to the ruling on his official Twitter account, describing the Turkish governing system as a “dictatorship” where it is “illegal” to win against the AKP.
“This system that overrules the will of the people and disregards the law is neither democratic nor legitimate. This is a plain dictatorship,” he said.
Mehmet Bekaroglu, a CHP MP, claimed during a program on Arti TV that the AKP pressured and threatened YSK judges with prison if they voted against a re-run in Istanbul.
On Saturday, Erdogan said “it’s clear” the vote was spoilt by controversy and urged the election board to “clear its name” with a decision of re-run.
Another CHP lawmaker, Mahmut Tanal, defined the decision on his Twitter account as “the murder of law” and “a black stain.”
“I think this is the greatest distortion of democratic elections in Turkey since the country’s first free and fair polls in 1950,” tweeted Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The opposition’s candidate for the presidency in 2018, Muharrem Ince, called the decision is “a usurpation of free will” by the government.
Addressing AKP, he added: “You will learn democracy and people’s will.”
Imamoglu, the winner of the election, said the YSK decision is “treacherous” and vowed to fight on.
“We will never give up. Because I know that I will never walk alone. I’ll walk along with 16 million Istanbulites,” he stated.
Imamoglu, who has been in office less than a month, previously implied corruption in the metropolitan municipality after it changed hands in the local elections.
He said that he was informed of many incidents where documents and files are destroyed and he would share it with the Turkish press if he gets hold of any evidence.
“I will call them to account for every kuruş (100 kuruş equals one lira) coming out of people’s pockets in Istanbul,” the Imamoglu said, referring to the corruption allegations against AKP members.
Audit reports released in October 2018 revealed a number of alleged wrongdoings and illicit spending by municipal administrations run by the governing AKP in 2017.
A group of CHP members filed a criminal complaint against former Istanbul mayors Kadir Topbas and Mevlut Uysal following the release of audit reports.
The complaints were based on the reports concluding that a total of 753 million lira worth of malpractice occurred within government offices that operate under the municipality in 2017.
In December 2013, corruption probes were launched targeting senior members of then-Prime Minister Erdogan’s cabinet as well as his own family members. An Istanbul court in 2018 sentenced police officers who carried out the corruption investigations in 2013 to life imprisonment.