ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey’s top election body on Wednesday, May 8, stood behind a controversial decision to rerun the Istanbul mayoral vote as two former ruling party heavyweights joined a chorus of domestic and foreign criticism.
The election board this week voided the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) narrow victory in Turkey’s biggest city and economic hub Istanbul and ordered a replay of the vote.
“It is unacceptable to personally target and discredit the judges because of the decision they made,” the election body said.
It added that it “will continue to do its duty despite pressure, slander, insult and threats.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a big setback in the March 31 local elections, losing Istanbul and the capital Ankara to the opposition. Both cities have been run by the AKP party and its predecessors for many years.
Erdogan’s party refused to accept the defeat in Istanbul and submitted an “extraordinary appeal” to the election body for a fresh vote citing “organized crime” and “serious corruption” but did not criticize the results for local districts, where the AKP won a majority.
The electoral body accepted the complaints and seven of its members voted this week to cancel the opposition’s victory and hold a new election in June.
Four members of the body voted against the move.
Opposition chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Tuesday, May 7, blasted the seven members of the board as “gang members” under Erdogan’s influence.
CHP’s Istanbul candidate Ekrem Imamoglu was stripped of his mayoral office following the controversial decision and the staff he hired for the municipality was dismissed by the acting mayor, Istanbul governor Ali Yerlikaya, according to the party.
The CHP on Wednesday appealed to the top election body for the cancellation of the results for local districts in Istanbul.
Two of Erdogan’s former allies joined the criticism of the election body – a rare moment of targeting the strongman directly given their key roles in the party previously.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “The biggest loss for political movements is not losing elections but the loss of moral superiority and social conscience.”
Abdullah Gul, former president and co-founder of the AKP, said it showed the party failed to make any headway since past constitutional spats.
Both men have fallen out with Erdogan since their time in office and there have been persistent rumors over the years that they may set up their own parties.
Turkey’s Western allies have also voiced concern over the ruling.
The United States said that a “healthy democracy” with transparent elections was in Turkey’s own interest, while Germany said the decision to annul the election was “not transparent, and incomprehensible to us”.
The disputed rerun has also mobilized anti-Erdogan Turks on social media.
Under the viral slogan “Everything will be fine” opponents of the Turkish leader defiantly flocked to social media to suggest often innovative and even amusing ways to ensure a high turnout for his rival next month.
With the election falling at a time when Istanbulites often head south to the beaches, several seaside municipalities held by the CHP predicted snow or sandstorm for election day, while other resorts warned of 150-degree temperatures and 90-percent humidity.
Famous musicians and actors – who have often steered clear of politics for fear of repercussions – have been galvanized by the election rerun. – Rappler.com