Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has defended his party’s plans to demand a full recount of votes cast in mayoral elections in Istanbul, claiming that “almost all” of the voting was marred by irregularities.
Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) Party suffered a major setback in last week’s local elections after the opposition took control of the capital, Ankara, and won a tight race for Istanbul, after nearly 25 years of rule.
Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul’s mayor in the 1990s before emerging as a national leader.
A partial recount of votes – mostly of ballot papers that were previously deemed invalid – demanded by Erdogan’s party is taking place in several Istanbul districts. But the party said it will apply to the country’s top electoral board to demand a recount of all the ballots.
“The citizens are saying ‘protect our rights, we are seeing that organised crimes have taken place’,” Erdogan told reporters on Monday before departing for Moscow.
“As a political party, we have determined that certain organised acts were carried out,” he said.
“There is an element of robbery in all of this. There was some theft at the ballot box.”
Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu’s lead over the ruling party candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, narrowed to close to 16,000 votes from the initial 25,000 votes in Istanbul on Monday, after 90 percent of the invalidated ballots were recounted.
Imamoglu has urged the country’s electoral board to “do its job” and confirm his election win.
But Erdogan said that “nobody has the right to put on airs of victory in a city of more than 10 million voters with a 13,000-14,000-vote lead”.
“As for the irregularities, it was not just in some places; almost all of it is irregular.”
Erdogan said when there was a problem with a margin of vote victories in other countries, appeals and even new elections were not unusual.
He, however, added that his party would accept results confirmed by the top electoral board.
The CHP candidate for mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavas, received a document certifying his election win and took over the municipality in a brief ceremony on Monday.
“May it be Istanbul’s turn next,” he said.
After 16 years in power, Erdogan is praised by supporters who say he oversaw a period of economic growth and prosperity.
But his critics at home and among Western allies say the Turkish leader has undermined democracy by purging dissent, especially in the wake of a 2016 failed coup Ankara blames on a US-based Turkish preacher.
Erdogan campaigned hard portraying the local vote for mayors and district councils as a fight for the nation’s survival, but the election became a test of AK Party’s support after an economic slowdown hit Turkey.