Turkey’s election board on Monday cancelled the results of Istanbul’s mayoral election and ordered a rerun of the race, raising the prospect of renewed political turmoil in the country.
Ekrem Imamoglu, the main opposition Republican People’s party (CHP) candidate, won the March 31 election by about 13,000 votes and began what would have been a five-year term last month after a series of recounts failed to overturn his winning margin.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) lodged a number of challenges, claiming voter fraud and other irregularities.
The Supreme Electoral Council, which is dominated by the AKP, ruled in favour of the party, the AKP representative on the board said on Twitter. The representative, Recep Ozel, added that the new elections would be held on June 23.
The decision sparked outrage among opposition lawmakers and consternation in Brussels, where EU officials had been urging Mr Erdogan to respect the results.
“This is a downright dictatorship,” tweeted Onursal Adiguzel, a CHP lawmaker from Istanbul. “It’s free to enter an election against the AKP but forbidden to win it. They have trampled on the people’s will, ignored the law, this is not democratic nor legitimate.”
Cancelling an election in Turkey is rare and is likely to add to criticism of Mr Erdogan over the state of Turkish democracy after he was elected to a vastly empowered presidency last year with little parliamentary oversight.
The European Commission’s vice-president Frans Timmermans last month urged Mr Erdogan to adhere to “European values” in the Istanbul race. Dutch MEP Kati Piri, a leading voice on Turkish affairs in the European Parliament, said the move “ends the credibility of democratic transition of power through elections in Turkey”.
The decision is likely to unnerve investors who are already worried about the rule of law in Turkey’s $850bn economy, as well as the government’s commitment to fiscal and monetary policy discipline as it re-enters another election cycle during a sharp economic downturn.
The Turkish lira slid 2.2 per cent against the dollar to trade past the six per dollar mark for the first time since October. It pared some of its losses in afternoon US trading.
“It is high cost, precisely because it removes a fig leaf. Because this is in Istanbul, the cultural and economic centre, it is seen as more significant than other attacks on democratic principles,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at St. Lawrence University in New York and senior non-resident fellow at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
Mr Imamoglu’s win in Istanbul, Turkey’s economic powerhouse with 16m people, had seemingly ended the ruling party’s 25 years of control of the city. It energised the opposition to the AKP and Mr Erdogan, who has gradually tightened his grip on the country’s levers of power during more than 15 years as prime minister, then president.
The AKP lost several other municipalities in the nationwide elections, including the capital Ankara, amid widespread discontent over Mr Erdogan’s handling of the economy.
Turkish authorities last week launched a criminal probe into the election in Istanbul, and the state-run Anadolu News agency reported over the weekend that investigators had found evidence linking some polling station officials to a religious network led by Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic preacher blamed for a 2016 failed military coup who lives in the US.
Investors have become concerned over Turkey’s economy and the lira is the second-worst performing currency in the world this year after the Argentine peso, having fallen 11.4 per cent against the dollar.
“It is going to be very costly for the economy. What Turkey needs most of all right now political stability and a sense of normalcy,” said Mr Eissenstat.