Turkey's President Erdogan claims Istanbul mayor elections linked to 'organised crime'

Turkey's President Erdogan claims Istanbul mayor elections linked to 'organised crime'
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday weighed in on the highly-contested Istanbul local elections, claiming an 'organised crime' had occurred and hinting at new elections.
5 min read
08 April, 2019
Erdogan hinted at the possibility of a re-run for the Istanbul mayoral election [AFP]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday made his most decisive comments yet on the ongoing crisis over the results of Istanbul mayoral elections, alleging that "organised crime" had occurred at the polls and hinting at a re-run of the elections held just over one week ago.

"We are seeing that some organised crimes have been carried out," he claimed at a press conference before a planned trip to Russia.

Turkey's 31 March local elections delivered the biggest blow yet to Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Although the AKP was able to win the majority of votes with the aid of its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the party lost its longtime stronghold, the capital Ankara, to the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).

The CHP also again secured its own stronghold, Izmir, with unofficial results showing the party's candidate for the mayorship of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, as the winner in that race with a narrow 28,000 lead.

Istanbul has been under the control of the AKP and its predecessor the Welfare Party (RP) since 1994, when Erdogan was elected as the mayor of Istanbul with a 12,000 vote lead.

The AKP initially contested the results in both the Ankara and Istanbul mayoral elections, citing "excessive voting irregularities". Partial recounts of votes previously marked as "invalid" have reduced Imamoglu's lead to around 15,800.

After the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK) rejected the AKP's request for a total recount of votes cast in Ankara on Sunday, CHP Mayor-Elect Mansur Yavas received his official certificate of election on Monday.

Opposition voices say Erdogan and the AKP will not let Istanbul, Turkey's biggest city, go so easily.

An AKP request that the YSK complete a total recount of votes cast in Istanbul is still pending, but Erdogan's comments on Monday morning seem to hint at a re-run of the controversial elections.

"There were not some irregularities," Erdogan claimed on Monday according to state news agency Anadolu. "Almost all of it was irregular."

The president went on to say that these "irregularities" were an "organised crime".

"There is stealing from the [ballot] boxes," he said, explaining the AKP had applied for a complete recount for this reason.

"No one has the right to claim victory in Istanbul with just a 13,000 to 14,000 vote difference," he added.

Opposition voices quickly pointed out that former prime minister and AKP candidate for the mayorship of Istanbul Binali Yildirim had declared victory with only a 3,000 vote lead on the night of the election itself.

Previous AKP victories have also been won with only small majorities.

A comparison with US elections has intensified speculation that the ruling party plans to request a re-run of the Istanbul mayoral election if the YSK does not yield to a total recount, or if this recount does not lead to an AKP majority.

"They [the US] renew elections when there is a one percentage point difference," Erdogan said. Unofficial results published by Anadolu Agency show Imamoglu with only a 0.25 percent lead.

Opposition voices have pointed to the perceived bias of the YSK, the district, provincial and national boards of which make the final decisions on any requests for recounts or re-runs of elections.

The chairs of these boards are appointed by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK). Four of the 11 members of the HSK are directly appointed by Erdogan. The other seven are elected by parliament, where the AKP holds 49 percent of the seats and its ally the MHP holds an addition 8 percent.

While local electoral boards and the national YSK have accepted the majority of requests by the AKP, they have rejected recount requests by opposition parties in districts lost to the ruling party's candidates with minor leads. This includes the northeastern district of Yusefeli in Artvin, where an AKP candidate won the mayorship by just one vote.

Similarly, in the southeastern district of Malazgirt in Mus, a recount request by the leftist People's Democratic Party (HDP) was rejected despite the AKP candidate winning with a lead of only three votes.

The YSK has until the end of Tuesday to accept or reject the AKP’s request for a total recount of votes in Istanbul.

If accepted, many say a total recount could take months as a partial recount of around 30,000 votes has taken around a week. Around nine million votes were cast in the Istanbul local election.

CHP candidate Imamoglu has speculated it could take as much as "238 days" to complete a total recount.

"How is it that the election system you advertised as the most secure in the world just a day ago, became Turkey's most contentious election?" Imamoglu hit back on Monday, according to DW Turkish.