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Turkey Opposition to Contest Istanbul Election as Re-Run Draws EU Criticism

Turkey Opposition to Contest Istanbul Election as Re-Run Draws EU Criticism

Tuesday, 7 May, 2019 - 17:30
Ousted Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

The main opposition in Turkey announced on Tuesday that it will field the same candidate in the re-rerun of the Istanbul election.

The election board ordered a re-run of the city election in a ruling that has spooked investors and drawn European criticism.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had pushed hard for the re-run after his ruling AK Party (AKP) lost control of Turkey’s biggest city in the March 31 poll and he welcomed the High Election Board’s (YSK) decision. But one opposition leader compared it to a “civilian coup” and Germany urged Ankara to respect democracy.

Highlighting the risks of a re-run for Erdogan and the AKP, several smaller opposition parties who fielded their own candidates in the March poll signaled that this time round they could back the ousted mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), a potentially significant move given the tight margin of his original victory.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu accused the YSK of betraying voters’ trust and giving in to AKP pressure.

“Since you want to renew the elections so badly, do so as much as you want. We will emerge victorious every time,” he told CHP lawmakers in the Turkish parliament.

Meral Aksener, leader of the nationalist IYI (Good) Party, which formed an alliance with Imamoglu’s secularist CHP for the March vote, said the ruling by the seven judges of the YSK harked back to the era of Turkish military coups.

“The YSK’s decision amounts to a civilian coup which surpasses the days of the uniformed coups,” she said.

The decision helped push the lira to its weakest level since Oct. 5, when it was just emerging from last year’s currency crisis that saw 30 percent of the currency’s value wiped out. It stood at 6.1467 to the dollar at 1412 GMT.

With investors questioning Turkey’s commitment to both the rule of law and economic reforms during a recession, bonds and stocks were also sold off on Tuesday.

Erdogan brushed aside investors’ concerns, telling his AKP lawmakers on Tuesday that the YSK decision was “an important step to strengthen our democracy”.

“There was organized corruption and full illegality in the Istanbul mayoral elections,” said Erdogan, adding that former prime minister Binali Yildirim would again be the AKP candidate for the post.

Imamoglu’s surprise victory in the March poll - by a margin of just 13,000 votes, out of 10 million eligible voters - had marked the first time in 25 years that Erdogan’s AKP or its Islamist predecessors had failed to win control of Istanbul.

But Erdogan - who started his political career in the 1990s as mayor of Istanbul - said that, in such a tight race, “no one has the right to say they won” and repeatedly challenged the result.

Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, said the YSK move was neither transparent nor comprehensible, adding that basic democratic principles and transparency were paramount.

"This outrageous decision highlights how Erdogan's Turkey is drifting toward a dictatorship," Guy Verhofstadt, a European Parliament lawmaker and the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, said on Twitter.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described the decision on Istanbul as a "seismic event in Turkish history."

"Turkey has been holding free and fair elections since the 1950s," he told The Associated Press. "Never before has a party refused to accept the outcome of the election... This goes against 70 years of accepted tradition."

"(Erdogan) is saying 'let's vote until the governing party wins," he added.

Manfred Weber, the leading conservative candidate seeking to head the European Union's executive branch, told n-tv television in his native Germany that he would end EU membership negotiations with Turkey if he's elected later this month.

Weber, the center-right European People's Party candidate and front-runner to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission, said Turkey's decision on the Istanbul vote was "incomprehensible for many of us in Europe."

"In the past years, Turkey has unfortunately alienated itself from the values of Europe," he said. "For me, that means ending the accession talks between Turkey and the European Union."

Turkish opposition newspaper Birgun branded the decision a "coup" and argued that justice in the country has "been suspended."

The dispute over the Istanbul election and the economic uncertainty come as the United States threatens to impose sanctions on Turkey, a NATO ally, over its planned purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems.

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