Turkey's opposition demands mandate as Istanbul recount continues

Ekrem Imamoglu urges electoral board to name him mayor of Istanbul, but ruling AK Party denounces 'stained election'.

    Initial results show opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu leading the Istanbul mayoral race with 48.79 percent of the vote [Ozan Kose/AFP]
    Initial results show opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu leading the Istanbul mayoral race with 48.79 percent of the vote [Ozan Kose/AFP]

    The opposition candidate running to be the next mayor of Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, has urged the country's electoral board to "do its job" and confirm his election win, as authorities began a partial recount in more than a dozen of the city's 39 districts.

    Preliminary results from Sunday's mayoral elections showed a narrow win for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Istanbul and the Turkish capital, Ankara, in a shock upset for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party.

    However, the ruling party submitted objections to election results in all districts of Istanbul and Ankara, saying the results had been impacted by invalid votes and voting irregularities.

    State-run Anadolu news agency said on Wednesday officials were recounting votes in 18 Istanbul districts, including in three where every vote was being verified. In the other districts, officials were checking only nullified ballots.

    Istanbul was a tight race and preliminary results showed CHP's Ekrem Imamoglu narrowly beating his AK Party rival, Binali Yildirim, by some 28,000 votes.

    Anadolu said Imamoglu won 48.79 percent of the votes to Yildrim's 48.51 percent, while close to 300,000 votes were annulled on voting day in the city of five million.

    Speaking to reporters at his campaign headquarters, Imamoglu on Wednesday called on the High Electoral Board (YSK) to name him mayor and accused the AK Party of disrespecting the people of Istanbul.

    "We want justice. We demand our mandate from the YSK, which has given the numbers, as the elected mayor of this city," he said. 

    Urging Erdogan, Turkey's leader, to "cooperate" and prevent a slide into uncertainty, he added: "Three or four people acting like children who had their toys taken away should not damage this country's reputation through their own internal fights."

    He also held up a photograph from 1994, when Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul, showing the opposition candidate participating in a celebration of his win.

    "This is how it should be done," Imamoglu said.

    'Stained election'

    But Ali Ihsan Yavuz, AK Party's deputy chairman, insisted his party was not doing anything illegal.

    The vote difference between Imamoglu and Yildrim had fallen below 20,000, Yavuz said.

    "We believe the reality will emerge tonight and we will all accept the results," he told reporters.

    However, in a remark that contrasted with previous statements from government officials, Yavuz called Sunday's election "one of the most stained in our democratic history". 

    Pro-government newspapers also said there had been a conspiracy against Turkey in the local elections, with the Star newspaper likening it to an attempted military coup in 2016 and nationwide protests in 2013.

    Ibrahim Karagul, editor of the Yeni Safak newspaper, called for a second vote after what he termed a "coup via elections", adding, without providing evidence, that supporters of the US-based Muslim leader Fethullah Gulen - blamed by Ankara for the 2016 coup attempt - were involved.

    In some 100 rallies during his election campaign, Erdogan had described the opposition alliance as "terrorist" supporters linked to Gulen's network and Kurdish fighters.

    Erdogan's political success has rested on years of stellar economic growth in Turkey, but a recession that brought surging inflation and unemployment and a plunging lira have taken their toll on the president's popularity.

    While Erdogan's ruling alliance won a nationwide majority of just under 52 percent of all votes, losing Ankara and Istanbul - the city where he started his political life - would significantly dent his dominance.

    "It is by controlling the municipality that you keep your support happy because it is at the municipal level that you give away lots of things to your core base," said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers.

    In Ankara, opposition candidate Mansur Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes on Sunday, nearly 4 percentage points ahead of his AK Party rival.

    In the third-largest city, Izmir, the CHP candidate, Mustafa Tunc Soyer, was leading with 58 percent votes while AK Party's Nihat Zeybekci stood at 38.5 percent.

    SOURCE: News agencies