Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 September 2019

Turkey's president: Istanbul vote recount needed owing to organised crime

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the margin was too small for the opposition to claim victory in the mayoral contest

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to members of the media regarding the local elections in Istanbul on Monday. AP
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to members of the media regarding the local elections in Istanbul on Monday. AP

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that votes must be recounted in Istanbul after local elections last week because of “organised crime” associated with the process.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Monday, the president said of the outcome of the elections that “almost all of it was irregular”.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) announced on Sunday that it will apply for a full recount of the votes cast in Istanbul during the March 31 elections after they narrowly lost to the main opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu.

Mr Erdogan said his party, as well as citizens, had “detected organised crime and some organised activities,” and that “13,000 to 14,000” votes was too small a margin for the opposition to claim a win, despite narrower victories being claimed elsewhere in the country.

The dispute over the election outcome illustrates Istanbul's importance not just as the country's financial centre but also a bellwether for the political direction of the country. The city has been an AKP stronghold for decades, and for Mr Erdogan, who grew up in the city and began his own political career as mayor there, the election has a personal significance.

"The election process is completed, the next process is judicial," the president said, according to state news agency Anadolu, with some speculating that he plans to call for a second election.

The Turkish lira weakened to as far as 5.7120 against the dollar following Mr Erdogan’s remarks, down more than 1.5 per cent from Friday, as markets worried about a potential re-run of the vote.

Following a recount of invalid votes in some districts of Istanbul and full recounts in others over the past week, the AKP narrowed but did not close the gap between their mayoral candidate, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, and Mr Imamoglu, of the Republican People's Party (CHP). Invalid votes are ballots that have been either incorrectly filled in, marked or damaged, but which may still be counted.

In Ankara, where the AKP also suffered a surprise loss, CHP candidate Mansur Yavas retained his lead following a recount of invalid votes and was presented his mayoral certificate on Monday.

The country's High Electoral Board has agreed to a recount of some of the local votes in Istanbul. On Monday CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on the body to be impartial.

European Union officials have been watching the election closely. "Turkey has been moving away from European values ​​at great speed in recent years," the European Commission's first Vice President Frans Timmermans told German newspaper Welt Am Sonntag on Saturday. "We hope that this will not be made worse by the fact that the AKP does not respect the election results."

In response, AKP spokesman Omer Cilik said their questioning of the vote was a democratic right.

The local elections were held to choose Turkey’s mayors, city council members and other local officials for the next five years, but the outcome could also affect future government policy.

President Erdogan departed for Moscow on Monday afternoon to meet with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Updated: April 8, 2019 07:36 PM

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