Turkish opposition claims key victory in Istanbul, while ruling party disputes 'voting irregularities'

Turkish opposition claims key victory in Istanbul, while ruling party disputes 'voting irregularities'
The head of Turkey's official electoral authority has put the opposition CHP in the lead in the knife-edge race for Istanbul in Sunday's local elections.
4 min read
01 April, 2019
CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu claimed a victory in the hotly contest Istanbul mayorship race [AFP]

Turkey's opposition is currently leading in a knife-edge race to secure the country's largest city, Istanbul, despite the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) having claimed a victory hours before, the chief of Turkey's electoral authority said on Monday morning.

In an unprecedented move, Sadi Guven, chief of Turkey's Supreme Electoral Authority (YSK), disputed claims by the AKP and state media that the opposition had lost the hard-fought local elections in Istanbul.

The AKP says it will contest the results, claiming "voting irregularities" in the the thousands across the country.

While Sunday's local elections carry less importance after Turkey's assumption of an executive presidential system in 2017, they are widely seen as the most important test of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidency yet.

Over the past year, Erdogan has faced ire for an economic recession which heralds double-digit inflation, rising costs of living and high unemployment.

Ekrem Imamoglu, the opposition People's Republican Party (CHP) candidate, is ahead in the race for the mayorship of Istanbul with 4,159,650 votes, while former prime minister and AKP candidate Binali Yildirim is in a tight second place with 4,131,761 votes.

Only 80 ballot boxes remain to be counted, Guven said according to Turkey's state news agency Anadolu.

Many of those ballots remain unopened due to objections which could take days to be resolved.

Differing results published by Anadolu Agency, which currently places Yildirim in the lead by 0.5 percent, were not not provided by the country's official electoral authority, the YSK chief added.

The once-oppositional Demiroren news agency, now owned by an AKP ally, also put Imamoglu in the lead, as did the English-language government-aligned Daily Sabah.

The mayorship of Istanbul is seen as particularly important as it was the position in which Erdogan began his climb towards a near-all-powerful presidency in 1994.

"Today's elections are as historic as that of 1994," journalist Rusen Cakir tweeted. "It is a declaration that a page that was opened 25 years ago is being turned."

Erdogan on Sunday declared victory for his party in the nationwide municipal elections, despite the AKP losing its tight grip on the country's capital Ankara for the first time in almost two decades.

Neither Ankara nor Istanbul have been controlled by a party other than the AKP or its predecessor the Welfare Party (RP) since 1994.

The AKP and the allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) together won more than half of the votes cast, while the leading party alone managed to secure a reported 44.4 percent share with 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, according to Anadolu's unofficial results.

YSK's website was down at the time of publishing, a regular occurence during Turkish elections.

CHP candidate Mansur Yavas won the mayorship of the capital in a victory acknowledged by Erdogan.

The AKP still holds a majority of the city's districts, Anadolu reported.

Yavas previously ran for the position in 2014, when he narrowly lost to the AKP's Melih Gokcek, in an election the CHP and other opposition figures said was rife with vote theft, intentional miscalculation and corruption.

During this year's mayorship campaign, Yavas was accused of forgery and tax evasion by the government.

The AKP will contest the Ankara result, party general secretary Fatih Sahin tweeted on Monday, claiming it had found "voting irregularities" in 12,158 ballot boxes.

The ruling party will also submit objections to "voting irregularities" in Istanbul and the eastern province Igdir, Daily Sabah reported.

"The people have voted in favor of democracy, they have chosen democracy," opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said on Sunday, declaring that CHP candidates had wrestled Ankara and Istanbul from AKP control and held on to their stronghold of Izmir, Turkey's third largest city.

Opposition voices on social media expressed wariness over declaring a CHP victory in Istanbul.

Imamoglu could not be said to be the metropolis' new mayor until the state media declared it so, they said, expressing fear that the YSK chief would go back on Monday's declaration of a CHP lead following complaints or a possible recount.

"There is a lot of evidence going round that Imamoglu has won Istanbul but I'm not going to crack open the champagne until I see Istanbul go red [the CHP's colour] on the [Anadolu Agency] page," said Twitter user Can Okar, summing up a common claim for anti-Erdogan Turks as the Istanbul vote remains contested: it is not the official results that matter, perhaps, but the results declared by state media.