Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Turkey’s ruling party to challenge Istanbul and Ankara voting results

The AK Party will lodge objections with electoral board for results in all 39 districts

People pass in front of a huge banner with pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binali Yildirim, candidate of Turkish ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) reading 'Thank you Istanbul' in Istanbul, Turkey, 2 April, 2019. EPA
People pass in front of a huge banner with pictures of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Binali Yildirim, candidate of Turkish ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) reading 'Thank you Istanbul' in Istanbul, Turkey, 2 April, 2019. EPA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party has decided to lodge objections to local election results in all 39 Istanbul districts, Hurriyet newspaper said on Tuesday, after results showed a narrow lead for the main opposition candidate.

The AK Party is on track to lose control of Turkey's two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in a surprise election setback that may complicate Mr Erdogan's plans to combat recession.

In Istanbul, the mayoral candidate of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday Imamoglu was around 25,000 votes ahead.

The AK Party has said it will use its right to object to the results where there are voting irregularities. The deadline for appeals expires at 1200 GMT.

The party’s spokesperson Omer Celik told a press conference that it will ask the Supreme Election Council to resolve a dispute over invalid votes in both Istanbul and Ankara. He said that the decision to appeal was a natural one to remove any voting irregularities.

"The [appeal] process is legitimate. Everyone should respect it," Mr Celik said at the party's headquarters.

“We will respect the results regardless of the outcome, as it is our people's choice,” he added.

Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to pressure on the lira, which weakened sharply last week as a lack of confidence in the currency among Turks led them to snap up record holdings of dollars and gold.

On Tuesday the lira weakened as much as 2 per cent against the dollar on concerns about renewed tensions with the United States after it halted delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.

More than 57 million voters were eligible to choose leaders for 30 major cities, 51 provincial capitals and 922 districts in Turkey, as well as thousands of local positions. The election was marred by sporadic violence, with five dead and scores injured across Turkey.

Mr Erdogan's party and its nationalist allies garnered some 52 per cent of the vote overall but the opposition made momentous inroads.

A strategic decision by a pro-Kurdish party to sit out critical races in major cities contributed to the opposition's gains. The opposition also increased its support along the Mediterranean, taking the city of Adana from the nationalists and the resort destination of Antalya from the ruling party.

Mr Erdogan acknowledged setbacks in a speech to his supporters, saying his party would work to understand what had gone wrong and fix the problem.

Andrew Dawson, head of the Council of Europe's election observation mission, said on Monday his monitors were “not fully convinced that Turkey currently has the free and fair electoral environment which is necessary for genuinely democratic elections”.

He added: “But we do take the fact that many parties have been successful as a positive sign of Turkey's democratic resilience.”

In predominantly Kurdish provinces, the Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, won back some seats from government-appointed trustees, including the symbolic capital of Diyarbakir, but lost several former strongholds to the ruling party.

The government has replaced 95 elected officials since 2016 for alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

Mr Dawson urged the Turkish government to respect the election results.

Despite daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage, the president has failed to assuage concerns among many voters over Turkey's tip towards economic recession after a currency crisis last year.

Last year, after Erdogan announced snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee voiced concern over their freedom and fairness and recommended they be postponed.

Turkey's then-prime minister told the European rights body "to mind its own business".

Updated: April 2, 2019 05:26 PM

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