Erdogan welcomes controversial move to re-run Istanbul vote

The decision to re-run the Istanbul sparked protests by supporters of opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday welcomed an order to re-run the recent Istanbul election, a move the opposition has branded an attack on democracy.

His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the mayorship of Turkey’s biggest city by a narrow margin and has refused to accept defeat.

“We sincerely believe there was organised corruption and irregularities,” Erdogan told party members in parliament on Tuesday, saying the re-run was the “best step” for the country.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has condemned Monday’s decision by the top election body to re-run the vote as “neither democratic nor legitimate”.

Its candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, who has been stripped of the mayorship after winning the March 31 election, was meeting coalition partners on Tuesday to discuss their strategy.

The loss of Istanbul, the country’s economic hub, had been a shocking defeat for Erdogan’s ruling party.

The AKP and its predecessors have ruled the city for 25 years, and it was especially sensitive for Erdogan, who grew up in the metropolis and rose to power after himself serving as Istanbul mayor.

Imamoglu, a softly-spoken former district mayor, gave a rousing speech to thousands of supporters in Istanbul late Monday, vowing they would emerge even stronger after the re-run on June 23.

“Maybe you are upset but never lose your hope,” he said, while thousands more took to the streets of the chic Kadikoy district to protest against the election board.

‘Absolute power’

“This is the collapse of the declining democracy in Turkey. The coming process is condemned to be even worse,” said 60-year-old shopkeeper Ali Yamac in central Istanbul.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Tuesday that the decision to annul the election was “not transparent and incomprehensible to us”.

The European Union has called for the election body to produce its reasons “without delay”.

“Ensuring a free, fair and transparent election process is essential to any democracy and is at the heart of the European Union’s relations with Turkey,” EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement on Monday.

The loss of the mayorship in Istanbul, and a more resounding defeat in the capital Ankara, was a rare setback for Erdogan and his party, reflecting widespread concerns over the deteriorating economy.

The AKP still won the most seats nationwide, but has been damaged by Turkey’s first recession in a decade, as well as record-high inflation and a currency that has lost more than 12% of its value against the dollar this year alone.

Erdogan’s critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home but for his supporters, he maintains the image of a strong leader who speaks up for Turkey in the international arena.

The defeated mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, a close Erdogan ally, said he hoped the re-run would “be beneficial for our city”.

The US-based think tank the Soufan Center said the YSK decision marked “serious concerns” for the future of democracy in Turkey.

“Given restrictions on freedom of speech and Turkey’s increasingly less independent judiciary, the recent election meddling is a clear signal to the Turkish people, and the world, that Erdogan is willing to pursue absolute power at any cost.”