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Erdogan's AKP challenges defeat in Istanbul - and erects banners claiming victory

Ruling party files objections in all districts after unofficial results show opposition's Ekrem Imamoglu ahead by 20,000 votes
AKP banners have been erected around Istanbul since Sunday's vote (Reuters)
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Ankara

Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Tuesday challenged the results of Sunday's mayoral election in Istanbul after a preliminary count showed it losing control of a city previously considered to be President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political power base.

AKP officials have continued to claim victory in the city despite unofficial results published by the Anadolu news agency on Monday showing Ekrem Imamoglu, the candidate for the Republican People's Party (CHP)-led opposition defeating the AKP's Binali Yildirim by about 20,000 votes.

On Tuesday, the AKP confirmed that it had asked for a recount and filed objections to the results in all 39 districts of Istanbul. Meanwhile, dozens of banners declaring victory for Yildirim, a former prime minister and close ally to Erdogan, were hung in public squares and on buildings overnight.

The city remained tense, with police and armoured vehicles stationed outside the Istanbul headquarters of the Supreme Election Board (YSK), which now has until 12 April to rule on the AKP's complaints.

YSK headquarters
Turkish security forces and barricades outside the YSK's Istanbul headquarters (AFP)

Bayram Senocak, the chair of the AKP's Istanbul branch, told media on Tuesday that mistakes and irregularities had been identified in the preliminary figures and said that instances of fraud had been found.

He said the party would ask for a review for 319,000 votes deemed invalid, most of which were cast in districts won by the AKP.

Senocak, in another press conference on Monday, said that Yildirim had actually won the election by a margin of around 3,000 v0tes.

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Senocak presented a couple of official documents to the cameras to prove his point that in some ballot boxes the results appeared to have been misplaced.

“For example, in the ballot box numbered 1212, the preliminary document suggested we received 131 votes. However, when the data was entered into the system, somehow it was registered as only one,” he said.

Ruling AKP supporters on social media circulated other documents which they alleged were evidence of a plan to tamper with votes in favour of Imamoglu, who ran on a joint platform of opposition parties including the CHP and the nationalist Iyi Party.

Others were more sceptical about the AKP allegations. Kerem Altiparmak, a prominent lawyer who specialises in human rights issues, said on Twitter that the ruling party had already changed the election law in its favour in the last two years.

Imamoglu, in response, told journalists on Tuesday that all of his supporters should guard the votes being held by district election boards in Istanbul. He also criticised his rival Yildirim over the banners that had gone up around the city.

“I really feel bad that people in the AKP headquarters in Istanbul are trying to find a way to make Binali Yildirim a mayor by trying to work on 300,000 invalid votes. Had he won, I would have called him and congratulated him. But the fact is, I won, and we have election records signed by the relevant parties to prove that,” he said.

Canan Kaftancioglu, chair of the CHP's Istanbul branch, said: "Making demands to correct factual mistakes in elections records are normal. We also found mistakes that would increase Imamoglu’s votes.

"However, asking to recount invalid votes can’t be legal. Because formal objections for every ballot box have to be filed immediately after counting ends.”

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The tense atmosphere extended to the Turkish media where a number of controversial stories detrimental to the opposition were published 0nline by pro-government outlets but were later denied by the authorities.

One government-aligned media outlet claimed that 30 ballot box chairmen had been arrested, but the report was quickly denied by officials. Later on social media, one prominent conservative journalist claimed that the YSK had decided on a recount in Istanbul. This was proved false later on as well. 

Erdogan, who has been uncharacteristically quiet since a balcony speech as preliminary results were being announced late on Sunday, spent the night in Istanbul on Monday.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and other officials spent the day at the AKP's Istanbul branch, giving an impression that officials were working on a strategy to reclaim the country's largest city. 

Analysts told Middle East Eye that Erdogan considered the city to be of particular importance, not only because of its status as Turkey's economic and cultural capital, but because it is his hometown, from where he was propelled to national prominence after serving as mayor from 1994 to 1998.

The AKP has controlled the city ever since the party emerged by winning national elections in 2002. 

The AKP's Ankara branch also said on Tuesday that it would challenge results in 25 districts of the capital, after the party lost control of the city to the CHP-led opposition.