Ruling in favor of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's governing Justice and Development Party (AKP), Turkey's Supreme Electoral Board this week ordered a re-run of the March 31 vote on Istanbul's next mayor, which was narrowly won by opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu. The board based its decision on the fact that some officials overseeing the mayoral election were not civil servants, as required by law.
The ruling party claimed that such irregularities affected the outcome of the race. In response, the main opposition Republican Peoples' Party, or CHP, submitted a formal request for the cancellation of the Istanbul district elections and last year's general elections, arguing that non-civil servants had also supervised those ballots.
CHP cannot appeal the electoral board's decision to repeat Istanbul's mayoral election, as that is final. AKP won a majority of the Istanbul districts as well as last year's general elections, which gave Erdogan a new mandate with sweeping powers.
"If you say that the local election was stained, then the same is valid for the June 24 (2018) elections," CHP legislator Muharrem Erkek told reporters after submitting the appeal. "Ten thousand people who were not civil servants were on duty for the June 24 election."
"If you cancel Mr. Imamoglu's mandate, then you have to cancel Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's mandate too," Erkek said, addressing the electoral board members. He added there was no evidence proving that the presence of non-civil servants at the ballot stations had affected the outcome of the Istanbul vote.
Even though the Supreme Electoral board is not expected to uphold the opposition's appeal, CHP sought to expose what it says is the decision's unfairness. CHP, which has questioned the electoral authority's independence, believes that the board's members had succumbed to pressure by Erdogan. The party has accused the president of "stealing" Istanbul city hall in order to cling to power in Turkey's largest city and commercial hub.
"We don't trust or believe (in the electoral body)," Erkek said. "This is a struggle for democracy. It is not about CHP or Imamoglu." The electoral authority issued a statement on Wednesday saying it would continue working "without being affected by the campaigns of pressure, intimidation, insult and threats" directed against it.
The loss of Istanbul — and the capital, Ankara — in Turkey's local elections came as sharp blows to Erdogan. Erdogan says rerunning the Istanbul mayoral vote will strengthen democracy in Turkey by ensuring that the will of the people of Istanbul is truly reflected.