In a major setback for Erdogan, his party won the most votes nationwide but lost its decades-old stronghold of Ankara in Sunday's local elections and ended up in a tight race in Istanbul, where the president once served as mayor.
Erdogan's conservative and Islam-based Justice and Development Party, or AKP, filed appeals Tuesday to contest the results from all of Istanbul's 39 districts, alleging irregularities that needed to be corrected and demanding a recount of votes deemed invalid.
Ali Ihsan Yavuz, an AKP deputy chairman, called the election "one of the most stained in our democratic history." That contrasts with statements from government officials, who insisted Turkey's electoral system is fair.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said recounts were underway Wednesday in 18 districts in Istanbul, a city of 15 million residents that is Turkey's financial and cultural center. Votes were also being recounted in 11 districts in Ankara, Anadolu reported.
Preliminary results showed opposition Istanbul mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu narrowly beating his ruling party rival, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, by some 25,000 votes. At a news conference at his campaign headquarters, Imamoglu called on Erdogan and his nationalist supporters to "contribute to the process to prevent the results in Istanbul, which are being watched by whole world, from dragging (Turkey) into worrisome atmospheres."
Imamoglu held up a photograph from 1994, when Erdogan was elected Istanbul's mayor. The photo showed the opposition's rival candidate at a celebration of Erdogan's win. Imamoglu asked the president to reciprocate now.
"We are asking for justice," he said. Referencing the conflicting remarks of the ruling party's deputy chairman and the government, Imamoglu added: "What has happened that the elections are now all of a sudden the most stained in history?"
The ruling party quickly responded, reproaching Imamoglu for allegedly not respecting the election appeal process. "We have to accept the confirmed results," Yavuz said.