May 7, 2019 2:00 pm

Turkey’s president calls for a redo after Istanbul’s election — drawing international criticism

WATCH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backs redo of Istanbul election after "organized corruption."

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Just weeks after the opposition candidate won Istanbul’s mayoral election, the results are being scrapped and the vote rescheduled after allegations of electoral fraud in Turkey.

But opposition leaders and international bodies are calling the move a blow to Turkey’s democracy.

READ MORE: Turkey’s Erdogan suffers setback after his party loses Ankara in local elections


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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party lost the mayoral race by a razor-thin margin on March 31. But he said the elections were affected by “organized crime” and “serious corruption,” citing unsigned paperwork.

Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the mayoral election but has since been stripped of his duties, called the move “plain dictatorship.”

Ruling in favour of Erdogan’s governing party, Turkey’s top electoral body annulled the results of the vote in Istanbul on Monday and scheduled a new vote for June 23.

The decision sparked protests across the city with hundreds of people in Istanbul neighbourhoods gathering together, banging pots and pans and shouting anti-government slogans.

Demonstrators shout anti-government slogans during a protest against the High Election Board (YSK) decision to reschedule the mayoral election in Istanbul, Turkey, May 6, 2019.

REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

Why a new election?

The loss of Istanbul — and the capital of Ankara — in Turkey’s local elections were sharp blows to Erdogan and his conservative, Islamic-based Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

AKP had challenged the results of the vote, claiming it was marred by irregularities.

The Turkish government said the rescheduled vote was called because some electoral officials were not civil servants and some result papers had not been signed.

WATCH: Turkey’s Erdogan says his party may have lost Istanbul mayorship

On Tuesday, Erdogan insisted that redoing the Istanbul mayoral vote will only strengthen democracy and rejected opposition accusations that his party was trying to win back a key election that it had lost.

“We see this decision as an important step in strengthening our democracy, which will enable the removal of the shadow cast over the Istanbul election,” he said.

What critics are saying

The European Parliament said the decision to hold a new vote ends the credibility of the democratic transition of power through elections in Turkey.

Imamoglu, a member of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), called out the electoral board, saying it was influenced by Erdogan’s ruling party.

“We will never compromise on our principles,” he said. “This country is filled with 82 million patriots who will fight … until the last moment for democracy.”

READ MORE: Turkish president says it will seek rerun of March 31 mayoral election in Istanbul, citing alleged irregularities

Imamoglu said he will run again as the main opposition in next month’s repeat of the city elections.

Deputy chairman of the CHP Onursal Adiguzel said the rescheduling of the election shows it was “illegal to win against the AK Party.”

“This system that overrules the will of the people and disregards the law is neither democratic nor legitimate,” he said on Twitter.

Why a loss for Erdogan’s AKP could be damaging

Erdogan was mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s. Before the vote on March 31, the AKP and its predecessor had consistently won in Istanbul since the Turkish president launched his political career there.

Istanbul is also seen as Turkey’s economic powerhouse with a population of 16 million people. As the BBC reports, Erdogan has often said: “Whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey.”

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since coming to power 16 years ago, campaigned relentlessly for two months in the capital of Ankara, where he also lost the vote.

WATCH: Turkey headed for one-man rule after election

But the president’s daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage narrowly failed to win over the country’s capital or secure a clear result in Istanbul, which was seen as a symbolic shock and a broader sign of dwindling support for his party.

The redo of the vote also threatens to further destabilize the Turkish economy, which has entered a recession.

Turkey’s economic downturn seemed to weigh heavily on voters, as inflation nears 20 per cent and unemployment nears 15 per cent.

The Turkish lira crashed spectacularly last summer over investor concerns about Erdogan’s policies, shaking the economy. It has been sliding again in recent weeks and on Tuesday, it hit its lowest level since October due to the prolonged political uncertainty.

Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who was elected mayor after the March 31 elections, addresses his supporters after the High Election Board (YSK) decided to redo the mayoral election, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 6, 2019.

REUTERS/Murad Sezer

“This is damaging for Turkey’s perception as a democracy and will leave Turkey’s economy vulnerable, given risks to macro-financial stability in the period to July,” Timothy Ash of Blue Bay Asset Management told Reuters.

Turkey held a redo of general elections in 2015 when the AKP failed for the first time since its founding to form a single-party government. In a repeat election, the AKP found the support to form it again.

—With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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