Politicians, economists, journalists and intellectuals from across the world have spoken out against a decision by Turkey’s electoral authority to annul and re-run mayoral elections in Istanbul following a demand by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP faced defeats in a number of major cities in the March 31 local elections, including Istanbul, Turkey’s business hub where Erdogan started his political career as a mayor in the 1990s.
The main opposition, secular Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) Ekrem Imamoglu got ahead of AKP’s Binali Yildirim, who is also a former prime minister, and won the race in Istanbul.
The governing AKP submitted numerous appeals following the election results to the Supreme Election Council (YSK), including an extraordinary objection that demanded the electoral board cancel and repeat the mayoral election in Istanbul.
On Monday, the council ruled in favor of the ruling AKP, that Imamoglu will step down as the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor and an interim mayor will be appointed in his post until the election is renewed on June 23. The legal basis for the ruling was that 255 balloting committee chairmen and 3,500 more members were not government employees, as required by the law.
Kati Piri, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Turkey, said the decision “ends the credibility of democratic transition of power through elections” in the country.
“Erdogan does not accept defeat and goes against the will of the people. AKP pressured YSK to re-run local elections in Istanbul,” Piri stated on Twitter on Monday.
A member of the European Parliament and co-chair of the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly, Rebecca Harms, announced the ruling on Twitter, saying, “Bad news from Turkey.”
Defining the decision as “another strong blow against what was democracy in Turkey,” Harms further stated: “The message is: Erdogan is not losing the elections. He is deciding the elections.”
BBC Turkey Correspondent Mark Lowen argued that freedom of speech, independence of the judiciary, and credible elections are three major components of democracy.
“Turkey has lost the first two – and many will see it losing the third tonight,” Lowen said in a tweet.
Christian Christensen, Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University and a contributor for the Guardian, said the ruling was “incredibly disturbing news.”
He held forth that it’s hard to see how faith in a democracy can be maintained when election results, which have already been reviewed, aren’t accepted by the ruling party.
“This decision should not be seen as a surprise,” Henri J Barkey, the Cohen Professor of international relations at Lehigh University tweeted on Monday.
“The cancellation of the Istanbul elections is not only a travesty but demonstrates that there is not a single institution in Turkey that Erdogan does not dominate and control,” Barkey underlined.
Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said: “This is damaging for Turkey’s perception as a democracy and will leave Turkey’s economy vulnerable, given risks to macro-financial stability in the period till July.”
The Turkish lira touched a seven-month low and was trading at 1.9 percent weaker, at 6.079 against the US dollar as of 11:40 pm in Istanbul, the Guardian daily reported on Monday.
The currency has been among the world’s worst performers over the past year, with its most dramatic crash in August last year, triggered in part by conflict with the US over an American pastor who was held in Turkey on terrorism charges.
The Turkish lira continued to decline after the March 31 local elections amid President Erdogan’s objections to the results.