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Erdogan backs call to hold fresh elections in Istanbul amid voter fraud allegations

Turkish president's AK Party has not formally applied for a new vote in the city, where it narrowly lost recent election
Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 'almost everything was irregular' about Istanbul vote (Reuters/File photo)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the municipal election to be re-run in Istanbul, citing alleged voter irregularities and saying the opposition's 13,000 to 14,000 vote lead in the city was not enough for them to declare victory outright.

Erdogan's comments on Monday came as it became clear that his ruling party's previous demand, lodged to the Supreme Election Board (YSK), to hold a recount on votes that were deemed invalid in Istanbul, didn't have a significant effect on the results.

But the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has not formally filed an application to hold the elections again in Istanbul, where it was narrowly defeated in 31 March polls.

About 300,000 votes were declared invalid in the city for a variety of reasons, such as ripped ballots or ballots that had drawings on them.

Ruling AKP demands full recount of Istanbul mayoral election
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"Organised crime was committed here. There weren't only some irregularities; almost everything is irregular. We have tapes," Erdogan said on Monday, without going into further detail.

"For example, they go to a re-election in the US if the vote [difference] is close, within one percent. No one has a right to say, 'I won' with a 13,000 to 14,000 vote difference," he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) said on Monday that 92.3 percent of the invalid votes had been recounted and that CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu still held a lead of more than 15,000 votes.

The AKP won most votes nationwide in the local elections last month, but results showed the ruling party lost Ankara and lost a tight race in Istanbul in what would be one of their worst setbacks in a decade and a half in power.

Opposition dismisses Erdogan's call

In a joint press conference following Erdogan's remarks on Monday, Turkey's opposition party leaders rebuked Erdogan for proposing to hold the election over again.

"Redoing the elections until the AKP wins only happens in South American and African dictatorships," said Meral Aksener, leader of the right-wing Good Party (IYI).

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu also dismissed the Turkish president's call for a new vote, saying the government hadn't backed up its claims of voter irregularities.

Kilicdaroglu said AKP members hadn't made their objections clear in the ballot box board records, as the law demands. "That's a condition for any recount, let alone to hold fresh elections," he said.

"Whatever they have tried so far didn't change the results. The YSK judges have to behave independently and decide in accordance with the law. This is about the fate of our democracy," Kilicdaroglu said.

The YSK judges have to behave independently and decide in accordance with the law. This is about the fate of our democracy

- CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu

While the AKP has not formally applied to hold a new vote in Istanbul, on Sunday it demanded a recount of the results in 38 of the city's 39 voting districts.

The YSK, which consists of 11 high court judges, has until 12 April to make a decision.

In response to the AKP's complaint about alleged voter irregularities and fraud, opposition party supporters shared videos and statements made by those same AKP officials a week before the election, in which they said that Turkey had the best election safeguards.

Turkey law mandates that there must be solid evidence of fraud to justify a recount or to hold a vote over again.

If the AKP files a formal demand for fresh elections, and if the YSK then accepts the party's request, a new election may be held on 2 June, according to a past YSK decision.

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