Pray for Turkey government
Erdogan’s Party Demands New Vote in Istanbul After Losing Election
By: Richard Pérez-Peña (New York Times, 4/9/2019)
A billboard for the governing party in the Istanbul mayor’s race showed its candidate, Binali Yildirim, left, and
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Credit Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Trying to reverse a stinging setback, Turkey’s ruling party on Tuesday demanded a redo of last week’s election for mayor of Istanbul, the country’s largest city and long a source of power and prestige for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The extraordinary stance came as it became increasingly clear that a days-long recounting of ballots would not change the result that Binali Yildirim, the candidate of Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the A.K.P., had lost to the opposition candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, in the March 31 election.
Mr. Erdogan’s party had already demanded a recount of spoiled ballots in all of Istanbul and a full recount in some of the city’s districts. When that did not change the result, it called for a recount of the entire Istanbul vote, which the High Election Council refused.
The latest demand now puts the High Election Council squarely on the spot and threatens to precipitate a crisis for both Istanbul and the entire country, becoming the latest test of democratic institutions already groaning under the authoritarian strains of Mr. Erdogan’s 16 years in power.
“I find the chances extremely high that the election board will accept A.K.P.’s request to repeat the elections,’’ said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
‘‘Far from being independent, the election board, like other institutions, has fallen under Erdogan’s power, and I would say the board has thus far taken steps to facilitate Erdogan’s each and every next move,’’ he added.
He noted that the council had already allowed a recount of invalid ballots, even though the A.K.P. presented no credible evidence, other than a narrow margin, that there had been irregularities.
That has not stopped the party or the president from alleging that the irregularities were systemic in Istanbul, where the candidates are separated by less than 0.3 percent of almost nine million votes cast.
“We will use the extraordinary appeal grounds and say we want to renew the elections in Istanbul,” Ali Ihsan Yavuz, the deputy head of the party, said at a televised news conference in Ankara, the capital. “Everywhere in Istanbul, organized acts were done. That is why we called it organized irregularity.”
Mr. Erdogan himself has cast doubt on the election and pressed the case for a do-over by citing examples of American elections where the margin was so narrow that the balloting was redone.
“Irregularities are not just a few, almost entirely it is irregular,” he said on Monday of the election in Istanbul, speaking at Ataturk Airport before leaving for a visit to Moscow.
Murat Yetkin, formerly the editor in chief of Hurriyet Daily News, wrote on his blog this week that even those in the president’s circle were divided about how far to push the challenge, with a small, determined group urging the president to “put his weight for renewing Istanbul elections.”
A second, larger group of more experienced politicians have argued to accept the results, because the challenge is actually benefiting Mr. Imamoglu by elevating his stature.
Judging by Mr. Erdogan’s statement this week, the hard-liners may be carrying the day, though it may also be a way for the president ‘‘to manage the trauma,’’ said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the Ankara director of German Marshall Fund.
Initial results said that Ekrem Imamoglu, center, the candidate of the opposition Republican People’s Party,
had won the March 31 election. Credit Ozan Kose/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
‘‘This looks like more to redefine the defeat in Istanbul as if it was actually won but stolen by illegitimate means,’’ said Mr. Unluhisarcikli, who noted that a new election would actually be quite risky for the president as the economy continues to deteriorate.
“I do not believe that Erdogan actually wants to renew the elections,’’ Mr. Unluhisarcikli said. ‘‘The economic realities do not allow this. It would be a huge gamble.’’
The result in Istanbul carries enormous weight, however, and there are clear incentives for the president and his party to fight a loss.
With 15 million people, most of them on the European side of the Bosporus, Istanbul is the most populous city on the Continent and Turkey’s economic capital. It is also Mr. Erdogan’s hometown and has long been a base of support for him.
Just as important, the opposition and some analysts say, the city has become a vital source of wealth in a network of cronyism and nepotism that has benefited from the awarding of municipal contracts and the distribution of city funds to charitable foundations with links to the president’s family.
Even before he has been officially declared the winner, Mr. Imamoglu, who ran for the opposition Republican People’s Party, has vowed to open the books of the city, which Mr. Erdogan and his party have controlled since 2002, to expose long-simmering accusations of corruption.
“The result of this election is clear,’’ Mr. Imamoglu said at a televised news conference on Tuesday, when he repeated his desire to take office and start working immediately. ‘‘The streets accepted the result. You can work hard and win five years later. We have won, admit it.”
Last week, Mr. Imamoglu said that with its continuing challenges to the result of the election, Mr. Erdogan’s party was stalling for time so that it could erase City Hall records from computers before independent auditors could carry out the review he promises.
Such allegations have taken on more weight with voters as the Turkish economy falters, undercutting the president’s long record of nearly unbroken economic growth. Turkey entered recession this year, and the currency, the lira, has continued to slide amid increasing worry by investors and markets.
The opposition party also won a close mayoral election in Ankara, a result that the election council has finalized. The potential loss of Istanbul would place both the country’s political and financial capitals in opposition hands.
Taken together with rest of the results from the March 31 elections, the balloting reflected increasing discontent among voters with Mr. Erdogan, who has concentrated executive powers, carried out a sweeping purge of opponents after a failed 2016 coup, and brought a once-vibrant news media to heel.
The High Election Council must consider the request by Mr. Erdogan’s party for a new election, but the opposition party insisted that the result was legitimate and clear.
“Both legally and conscientiously, there is no obstacle to giving Ekrem Imamoglu his mayoral certificate,” Faik Oztrak, the opposition spokesman, said in televised remarks. “Mr. Imamoglu is right now the elected mayor of Istanbul, as he was on the morning of April 1.”
He pointed out that Mr. Erdogan’s A.K.P. party had won many districts in Istanbul as well as other towns across the country, results that were not being challenged.
“So when A.K.P. mayors are elected it is the national will, but when the votes go to Imamoglu, it is dubious,’’ Mr. Oztrak said. ‘‘Even crows laugh at that. They should leave the nation alone.”