Initial results from the March 31 local elections gave a narrow victory to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Turkey’s commercial hub, ending 25 years of control by the AK Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors.
New CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu was handed a paper, mounted in a gold frame, which formally granted his mandate as city mayor in a ceremony at an Istanbul court which was surrounded by a throng of supporters.
The loss is especially hard for Erdogan, who launched his political career in Istanbul as mayor in the 1990s. The Turkish lira, which has dipped since the election, firmed on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, after 16 days of appeals and recounts, the AKP asked the High Election Board (YSK) to annul and re-run the election in Istanbul over what it said were irregularities. Its nationalist MHP allies made a similar request on Wednesday.
The AKP had also urged officials to block Imamoglu from taking office until a ruling on their appeal was made.
The repeated challenges by the AKP and MHP have fuelled frustration among opposition supporters which spilled over into football stadiums at the weekend when fans chanted at top Istanbul derby matches for the mayoral mandate to be given to their candidate.
“There are way too many irregularities,” AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said, presenting the party’s justification for its demand for a new vote. “We are saying that organised fraud, unlawfulness and crimes were committed.”
CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek responded that there were “no concrete documents, information or evidence in the AKP appeal for an annulment.”
“There is no legitimate reason at all. You are using your right (to appeal) to damage the will of Istanbul,” he said.
While the AKP appears to have lost control of the mayorship in Istanbul, initial results showed the party had won most seats in its municipal councils. The AKP’s re-run appeal applies only to the mayoral elections, not those for municipal councils.
Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers, said it was puzzling to call only for a re-run of the mayoral elections, and added that some of the areas where the AKP claimed fraud took place were under its responsibility.
Uncertainty over the election results has also put pressure on financial markets, pushing the lira down nearly 5 percent.
“From the market perspective, an extended period of uncertainty around elections is a bad idea – it would suggest more election-related policy easing which is bad for the rebalancing story,” Tim Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told Reuters.
Erdogan had vowed that Turkey would enter a four and half year period with no elections after March 31, during which the ailing economy would be the focus. If the AKP appeal is approved, Istanbul, which makes up more than a third of Turkey’s
economy, will head to polls again on June 2.