Istanbul, May 7 : Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday defended the controversial decision to re-run local and mayoral elections in Istanbul, claiming there were “irregularities” in the voting process against his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party.
In the March 31 vote that was seen as a referendum on Erdogan’s popularity, the social democrat Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition, narrowly won the race for Mayor in Istanbul, ostensibly bringing an end to 25 years of AKP dominance in the city.
It had also won in Ankara.
The decision by Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) on Monday to re-slate the ballot in the country’s largest city following an appeal from the AKP has already sparked protests. Hundreds of people gathered in several districts, banging pots and pans and shouting anti-government slogans, the BBC reported.
The new vote will be held on June 23.
Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who has been stripped of his duties, described the move as “treacherous”. The European Parliament also said the decision would end the credibility of democratic elections in Turkey.
The opposition called the move by the electoral authorities as bowing to “Erdogan’s pressure”, the BBC said.
Istanbul’s Governor Ali Yerlikaya has been assigned as the acting Mayor of the city until the new vote.
“We believe there was organized corruption, irregularities and complete anarchy in the Istanbul elections,” Erdogan told party members in a speech broadcast on TV.
“We have seen that there were illegal practices related to voting lists and poll station workers. The fact that 20,000 of the 62,000 members of the voting committee were not civil servants heightened our concerns.”
“They say the AKP lost the elections by a difference of between 20,000-25,000 votes. We are ready to respect the will of the nation, but in the days that followed and after seeing the polls and the null votes, we saw a completely different picture.”
The YSK accepted the AKP’s petition to re-run the vote on Monday.
CHP candidate Imamoglu was officially confirmed Istanbul’s Mayor by the authorities in April. The party said it will run in the repeat elections but slammed the decision to annul the first round.
“In this crossroad, Turkey is faced with we give our hand to all citizens who believe in democracy and have the notion of rights, law and justice, no matter which their political party and ideological affiliations are,” the party said in a statement.
“The superiority of law, separation of powers, the right to elect and to be elected are eliminated with this decision.”
Istanbul’s election board had previously rejected the AKP petition.