In an interview with The Associated Press, Ekrem Imamoglu said that while Erdogan's ruling party has the right to appeal the vote, an unprecedented move in Istanbul for a recount of ballots that were declared void was being carried out in an apparent effort to try and tip the vote in Erdogan's favor.
Imamoglu won the tight race for Istanbul in Sunday's local elections in a major upset for Erdogan, who rose to power as the mayor of the city of 15 million and has said that whoever wins Istanbul wins the whole of Turkey. The opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, also gained control of the capital, Ankara, which was Erdogan's stronghold for decades.
The ruling party has contested the results in both cities, alleging irregularities. A recount is underway in several Istanbul districts. On Thursday, Ali Ihsan Yavuz, a deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said the difference in votes between the two parties had narrowed to around 19,000 on Thursday from the previous 25,000, with a multitude of ballots still to be recounted.
Imamoglu, who has called on electoral authorities to confirm his win, said his party estimates that the race could end in between 18,000 and 20,000 votes in favor of his party. "I requested that (Erdogan) contribute to the election process and to intercede as soon as possible for the (results) to become clear," he said.
The ruling party says it is using its democratic right to appeal the vote and has called on Imamoglu to respect the appeals process. Yavuz, the AKP official, has called the election "one of the most stained in our democratic history." That was in stark contrast with past statements from government officials, who dismissed allegations of foul-play in recent elections and insisted Turkey's electoral system is fair.
Asked whether he was concerned about possible manipulation of votes to ensure a victory for the ruling party, Imamoglu said: "We would be upset if (the recount) were to lead to a process of uncertainty."
Imamoglu, a 49-year-old former businessman and the little-known mayor of the Istanbul district of Beylikduzu, led a campaign during which he promised to build bridges in the highly polarized country. He even visited Erdogan in Ankara and asked for his vote too.
"We have a huge responsibility" to change Istanbul, he said. "If this success is achieved then changes in the political climate (in Turkey) may be cemented." __ Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.