Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated his government on Tuesday forcing Istanbul to host a do-over of the March 31 mayoral election after secularist opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu won the race against Erdogan’s former foreign minister.
İmamoğlu, of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), defeated Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate Binali Yıldırım by a mere 0.25 percent of the votes in March. At the time, Erdogan blamed “organized crime” for the defeat and encouraged the AKP to ask the nation’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) to hold a new election.
On Tuesday, the council agreed to do so, scheduling the new election for June 23. According to the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency, the YSK based its decision on finding that some of those working the ballots during the election were not certified to do so, though the agency did not specify if they suspected any of the individuals in question of tampering with votes, or whether the error affected the vote total in any way. The new election will feature only candidates for mayor and only those already appearing on the ballot on March 31.
Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya will serve as both governor and mayor until June 23. The YSK revoked İmamoğlu’s mayoral title, vowing to return it if he wins the second election.
“We see this decision of the Turkish Supreme Election Council (YSK), which will remove the shadow over Istanbul elections, an important step in strengthening Turkey’s democracy,” Erdogan said following the decision. “We sincerely believe organized corruption, utter lawlessness and irregularity occurred in the Istanbul elections.”
Erdogan did not specify who he believed was behind the “utter lawlessness” mentioned, but called them “thieves” who stole the “national will” of the people, despite the election being legally open only to residents of the city of Istanbul. In April, following the election, Erdogan had claimed that “organized crime” interests had meddled in the election to grant the secularists the win.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry also issued a statement Tuesday rejecting any international criticism of the second election.
“Everyone should respect this decision that was made in accordance with the law. We do not accept politically-motivated criticism by some of our foreign interlocutors regarding this decision and the Supreme Election Council [YSK],” the statement read, according to Hurriyet. “Turkey has proven its democratic maturity. The decision of the independent Supreme Election Council aims at ensuring the manifestation of the will of the electorate without any doubt.”
The CHP – whose leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has faced legal trouble for calling Erdogan a fascist dictator (“insulting the president” is a crime in Turkey) – issued an outraged statement but did not call for a boycott of the election, confident it could win again.
“There is no other example in our history in which the rule of law, justice, clean politics and economic stability have been sacrificed in the name of personal ambitions and fears of just one man,” the CHP leadership said in a statement.
Kılıçdaroğlu himself accused the YSK members of selling out to Erdogan and urged voters of all political affiliations to support İmamoğlu.
“From now on, Ekrem İmamoğlu is not only the candidate of the Republican People’s Party, but of all 16 million residents of Istanbul. You will see, the conscientious people of Istanbul will re-write history on June 23,” he said Tuesday.
İmamoğlu himself called the new election “a major blow” to democracy. Yildirim issued a measured statement saying that both he and İmamoğlu will abide by the YSK decision.
Outside of those directly involved in the government, Erdogan supporters hailed the new election as a victory. Ibrahim Karagül, the editor-in-chief of the Ottoman imperialist Yeni Safak newspaper, accused İmamoğlu and unspecified international actors of trying to stage a “coup” against Erdogan and allying with terrorists.
“This organized crime [the democratic election of İmamoğlu] was an intervention against democracy, national will and the will of the electorate. It is an intervention targeting Turkey’s national sovereignty, territorial integrity and its future,” Karagül wrote.
Erdogan appears to be returning to an old tactic to keep control of Istanbul. In 2015, the AKP suffered a decisive loss in June’s nationwide legislative elections. The CHP and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a new center-left secularist party, made significant gains and brought the AKP’s majority in parliament down to 40 percent. Erdogan claimed that unspecific fraud had occurred and forced a second election in November of that same year. This time, the AKP passed 50 percent support and the HDP barely stayed in parliament with 10.4 percent. Parties must win at least ten percent of the vote to win a seat in parliament.
Turkey’s 2018 referendum to grant Erdogan more power and switch the nation to a presidential system also attracted controversy. Rampant allegations of fraud, intimidation, and other irregularities benefiting Erdogan abounded, but this time Erdogan called the election a victory for democracy and readily accepted it. That election eliminated the position of prime minister, then held by Yıldırım, who moved on to run for mayor of Istanbul.