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Erdogan welcomes re-run of Istanbul vote

Imamoglu addresses supporters, vows to emerge even stronger

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday welcomed an order to re-run the recent Istanbul election, a move the opposition has branded an attack on democracy. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the mayorship of Turkey’s biggest city by a narrow margin and has refused to accept defeat. “We sincerely believe there was organized corruption and irregularities,” Erdogan told party members in parliament yesterday, saying the re-run was the “best step” for the country.

ANKARA: This handout picture taken yesterday shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gesturing in front of members of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at their group meeting at the parliament. — AFP

On Monday, Turkey’s top election body annulled the results of the March 31 mayoral vote, which was won by Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). The party’s leader described the seven members of the election board as “gang members” under Erdogan’s control. “Those who take their power from the palace will be brought to account before history one day. We take our power from the people,” CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said in a televised speech.

The loss of Istanbul, the country’s economic hub, was a shocking defeat for Erdogan’s ruling party. The Islamic-conservative AKP and its predecessors have ruled the city for 25 years, and it was especially sensitive for Erdogan who grew up in the metropolis and rose to power after himself serving as mayor. Imamoglu, a softly-spoken former district mayor, gave a rousing speech to thousands of supporters in Istanbul late Monday, vowing they would emerge even stronger after the re-run on June 23.

“Maybe you are upset but never lose your hope,” he said, while thousands more took to the streets of the chic Kadikoy district to protest against the election board. “This is the collapse of the declining democracy in Turkey. The coming process is condemned to be even worse,” said 60-year-old shopkeeper Ali Yamac.

The international community has voiced concern. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said yesterday the decision to annul the election was “not transparent, and incomprehensible to us”. The European Union called for the election body to produce its reasons “without delay”. “Ensuring a free, fair and transparent election process is essential to any democracy and is at the heart of the European Union’s relations with Turkey,” EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said.

Paris also urged the Turkish authorities to justify the move and ensure “respect for democratic principles, pluralism, fairness, transparency and, in particular, the presence of foreign observers” in the new poll. The loss of the mayorship in Istanbul, and a more resounding defeat in the capital Ankara, was a rare setback for Erdogan and his party, reflecting widespread concerns over the deteriorating economy. Analysts say the re-run risks further eroding Turkey’s international reputation, but that Istanbul’s wealth makes it worth the gamble for Erdogan and his allies.

“The municipality controls very large financial resources, which are channelled to AKP supporters. The loss of Istanbul would weaken the party machine,” Emre Erdogan, professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, told AFP. Erdogan’s party still won the most seats nationwide, but has been hurt by the first recession in a decade, as well as record-high inflation and a currency that has lost more than 12 percent of its value against the dollar this year alone. His critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home but for his supporters maintains the image of a strong leader who speaks up for Turkey in the international arena.
The defeated mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, a close Erdogan ally, said he hoped the re-run would “be beneficial for our city”. The US-based think tank the Soufan Center said the YSK decision brought “serious concerns” for the future of democracy in Turkey. “Given restrictions on freedom of speech and Turkey’s increasingly less independent judiciary, the recent election meddling is a clear signal to the Turkish people, and the world, that Erdogan is willing to pursue absolute power at any cost.” – AFP

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