Istanbul mayor vows to fight on after election body orders re-run

Turkey's ruling party did not request a re-run of elections for Istanbul's local assembly, where it won most seats

Supporters of Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu cheer as they protest against a decision to re-run the Istanbul election. Getty
Supporters of Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu cheer as they protest against a decision to re-run the Istanbul election. Getty

The winner of Istanbul's disputed mayoral election has vowed to fight on after Turkey's election body on Monday ordered a re-run of the vote.

Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his Justice and Development Party (AKP) genuinely believe there was illegality in the elections and the decision to re-run the race, strengthens the country's democracy.

Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said it was a "treacherous decision".

"They are trying to take back the election we won," Mr Imamoglu told thousands of supporters on the outskirts of Istanbul. "Maybe you are upset but never lose your hope."

Mr Imamoglu narrowly defeated the candidate from the ruling AKP in the March 31 local elections to take control of Turkey's biggest city.

It was a rare electoral defeat for Mr Erdogan, a former mayor of the city, which has been in the hands of his party and its predecessors for 25 years.

But the party refused to accept defeat, saying there were "irregularities and corruption" in the vote. The AKP did not request a re-run of the election for the Istanbul local assembly, in which it won a majority of seats.

Mr Imamoglu won by just 13,000 votes but was confirmed in April after two weeks of recounts.

Turkey's currency, which has been a source of economic uncertainty for the country, weakened on the news of the re-run by more than half a per cent.

People in the streets of several Istanbul districts were banging on pots and pans in protest at the ruling.

Mr Imamoglu, a soft-spoken former district mayor, had vowed to heal political divisions and reach across party lines.

But Istanbul, with 16 million residents, is Turkey's economic engine and controls a major part of public spending.

Mr Erdogan once said that winning Istanbul was like winning the entire country.

The loss of the mayoralty in Istanbul, along with a more resounding defeat in the capital Ankara, reflected widespread concern over Turkey's deteriorating economy.

Mr Imamoglu's party, which called Mr Erdogan a bad loser, said it was holding an emergency meeting after the election commission's announcement.

The party's deputy chairman, Onursal Adiguzel, who represents Istanbul in parliament, said the ruling was "neither democratic nor legitimate".

"Going to the polls against the AKP is allowed, but winning is forbidden," Mr Adiguzel said. "This is downright dictatorship."

Mr Imamoglu said he would travel to Ankara on Tuesday to meet party leaders.

"I don't even know what to say. The lawlessness is so obvious," a female supporter said before his speech in Istanbul. "If there is no rule of law they will trigger a civil war."

The defeated mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, said he hoped the re-run would "be beneficial for our city".

Mr Erdogan presented the local elections as a matter of national survival, campaigning heavily even though he was not running.

For his supporters, he is the strong leader that Turkey needs as it faces internal and international security threats, while also speaking for religiously conservative Turks who have felt sidelined.

Mr Erdogan's critics say he has undermined the rule of law with a sweeping crackdown on dissent and sown division by portraying his opponents as enemies of the state.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Turkish voters alone must decide on the mayor's office and basic democratic principles of transparency are paramount.

"The decision of the High Election Board to annul the local election in Istanbul and order a re-run is in our view not transparent and not comprehensible," Mr Maas said.

The EU's foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, the bloc's enlargement chief, issued a joint statement asking for the Turkish authorities to invite the EU to monitor the re-run."

The justification for this far-reaching decision, taken in a highly politicised context, should be made available for public scrutiny without delay," they said.

The AKP still won the most seats nationwide in the local elections but it has been damaged by Turkey's first recession in a decade.

Turkey also has record-high inflation and a currency that has lost more than 12 per cent of its value against the dollar this year.

Updated: May 7, 2019 02:00 PM


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