Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to members of the media regarding the local elections, in Istanbul, Monday, April 8, 2019, prior to his departure for Russia.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks to members of the media regarding the local elections, in Istanbul, Monday, April 8, 2019, prior to his departure for Russia.

ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has thrown his full political weight into efforts to reverse the defeat of his AK Party in mayoral elections for Turkey's largest city, Istanbul.

Speaking to reporters Monday before flying to Moscow, Erdogan questioned the validity of the vote.

"We, as the political party, have detected an organized crime and some organized activities,"he said.

Until now, Erdogan appeared to step back from the deepening political controversy over the opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) success in Istanbul.  The AKP in Istanbul is challenging the March 31 vote, seeking to overturn Ekram Imamoglu's 24,000 vote lead over Binali Yildirim.

Turkish flags fly in Istanbul Taksim's square while in the background posters showing Binali Yildirim, left, the mayoral candidate for Istanbul of Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party's (AKP) and Erdogan are
Erdogan's AKP Calls for Recount of Mayoral Election in Istanbul
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party is asking for a recount of votes in Istanbul after the ruling party lost last week's mayoral election.In a humiliating setback for Erdogan, the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) narrowly won Istanbul, the country's economic and cultural center.

AKP's efforts reduced Imamoglu's majority to around 15,000 votes.  But the current reexamination of 300,000 invalidated ballots is almost complete.  The AKP is now demanding a full recount of the nearly 10 million votes.

Erdogan also introduced the idea of a repeat of the Istanbul poll.

"No one has a right to say, 'I won' with a 13,000 to 14,000 vote difference," Erdogan said.  "We made a promise.  We said that we would protect the votes at ballot boxes, and we did so.  After protecting the votes at the ballot box, we have continued to do the same in the ensuing process."

The prospect of a rerun of the vote drew scorn from opposition leaders.

"Renewing elections until the AK Party wins is what happens in African dictatorships.  There are examples of it," said Good Party leader Meral Aksener.

People's Democratic Party supporters (HDP) celebrate after the announcement of preliminary results of the local elections, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, Sunday, March 31, 2019.
Erdogan's AKP Set to Accept Recount Results
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AKP will accept the results of local election recounts in Ankara and Istanbul no matter which party is declared the winner, a party spokesman said Saturday.    The AKP won most votes nationwide in last Sunday's election, but results showed the ruling party lost Ankara and was also narrowly defeated in Istanbul in what would be one of its worst setbacks in a decade and a half in power.    Electoral authorities are conducting a recount in scores of…

With political tensions rising over the contested vote, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu put the onus on Turkey's Higher Electoral Board (YSK) to end the dispute.

The YSK administrates elections in Turkey and has the final say in determining results and decisions on recounts and reruns.

"Whatever they (AKP) have tried so far didn't change the results," Kilicdaroglu said.  "The YSK judges have to behave independently and decide in accordance with the law.  This is about the fate of our democracy."

The majority of the ruling YSK board is made up of Erdogan and government appointees.  YSK decisions on sanctioning recounts in the aftermath of the local elections is already raising questions over its impartiality.

"Election monitoring body YSK, which ought to be independent and which will decide on this appeal (Istanbul vote), has thus far granted 86 percent of AKP's requests for recounts versus 12 percent of opposition CHP and 0 percent of opposition HDP (pro-Kurdish party)," tweeted Sonar Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program, in Washington.

Backdropped by a poster of modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, right, Ekrem Imamoglu, the opposition, Republican People's Party's (CHP) mayoral candidate in Istanbul, poses following an interview in Istanbul, April 4, 2019.
Istanbul Candidate: Recount Could Bring 'Dangerous' Changes
"I am not worried about voting results," said Ekrem Imamoglu, the opposition mayoral candidate in Istanbul. "I am worried about a system being poorly managed." He spoke to VOA on Friday as elections officials conducted a recount of last Sunday's vote.Friday was the fifth day of uncertainty about which candidate would take over the leadership of the city of 15 million.

Critics highlight the YSK's rejection of opposition parties' calls for recounts in the latest local elections, where the winning margin was in the hundreds or low thousands.

However, the YSK did reject AKP's calls for a full recount in the mayoral election in Ankara, which saw the CHP win control of the city after 25 years.  In Istanbul, the board also rejected an appeal for a district mayoral election to be repeated.

Analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners said the entrance of Erdogan into the controversy over the Istanbul vote changes the political landscape.

"While the YSK, has shown some backbone during this ordeal (Istanbul vote), let's not fool ourselves.  No mortal or legal entity in Turkey has the guts to withstand Erdogan's wrath," he said.

Turkey's main opposition party CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, who claimed victory as Istanbul's mayor, speaks during a press conference at the CHP's Election Coordination Centre in Istanbul, April 3, 2019.
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Istanbul's opposition mayoral candidate urged Turkey's elections board Wednesday to confirm his narrow victory after it launched a partial recount of votes in eight of the city's 39 districts.President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was dealt a political blow in Sunday's elections, as early results show the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) narrowly defeating Erdogan's ruling AK Party in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey's two largest cities.In Istanbul, the AK Party (AKP) candidate, former prime minister…

Critics warn overturning the Istanbul vote or repeating the election could end many Turks' belief in the Turkish democratic system.  Political scientist Cengiz Aktar said for Erdogan, that would be politically costly.

"Elections, on a general or local level or even referenda are extremely important to the regime as it constitutes the sole source of legitimacy for this regime. Therefore elections are crucial for the regime."

Erdogan's favorite rebuttal of criticism domestically and internationally is his repeated electoral success.  Yesilada suggests the president's AKP defeats in Istanbul and Ankara could have been an opportunity.

"The victories in Istanbul and Ankara by opposition parties should have aroused respect for Turkey's resilient democracy and earned him (Erdogan) credit from the West for gracefully conceding defeat," Yesilada said.  The alternative means Turkey is exiting the democratic fraternity and possibly another market quake to devastate the economy.

The Turkish lira fell sharply Monday following Erdogan's comments.  Economists warn the currency remains vulnerable to political risk, with the economy recession and concerns over the scale of private sector debt.

Observers suggest the political and the economic risks will be considerable in any protracted struggle for Istanbul, Erdogan's base for 25 years, where he could be calculating that such risks more than outweighed the cost of losing control of his hometown city.

"He (Erdogan) was elected mayor in 1994.  He knows how economically meaningful Istanbul is for his party, the AKP.  It has extensively benefited from Istanbul," said Aktar.  "In that sense, it's (Istanbul) extremely important and symbolic, and that is why the opposition will never be allowed to win in Istanbul."