ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Saturday he backs a re-run of mayoral elections in Istanbul which resulted in a narrow victory for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for the first time in 25 years.
Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP), which also lost control of the capital Ankara in the March 31 local elections, has already filed an appeal to Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) to annul and re-run the election in Istanbul due to what it says were irregularities.
The YSK is expected to rule on the AKP challenge on Monday, but it has ordered district electoral officials in Istanbul to investigate their respective ballot box officials in its interim rulings.
Prosecutors on Thursday launched probes into allegations of irregularities in Istanbul and summoned more than 100 polling station officials for questioning as suspects, in a move the opposition CHP said would not alter the results of the vote.
Speaking to Turkish business people in Istanbul, Erdogan said the Istanbul elections were marred by irregularities and called on the YSK to make a decision that would eliminate controversies and “clear its name”.
“My people tell me the elections should be renewed. I have not spoken until now, I’ve been silent. But everyone else has spoken. Enough already,” Erdogan said.
“There is a controversy here, it’s clear. There is an irregularity here, that’s clear too. Let’s go to the people and see what they say and whatever the outcome, we will accept it.”
Erdogan had accused the opposition of supporting “terrorism” and labelled the local election a “matter of survival” for Turkey during his campaign, which was held amid growing disenchantment among voters over economic woes.
CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak told reporters later on Saturday that it was time for Erdogan and his AKP to accept defeat.
“The real matter of survival here is those who put aside the people’s concerns about food prices, wages and focus instead on their own benefits,” Oztrak told a news conference in Ankara.
“There is only one thing that can clear the YSK. That is for it to act in line with its regulations and previous rulings.”
The uncertainty over the results in Istanbul, which accounts for around a third of the country’s economy, has kept financial markets on edge, as Turkey tries to recover from a currency crisis that saw the lira lose more than 30 percent of its value last year.
On Friday, CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the Istanbul elections had become a test of democracy. He accused the AKP of exerting political pressure on the YSK to order a re-run of the vote.
Erdogan said his party was only exercising its legal rights.
“Claiming that Tayyip Erdogan is trying to steal an election he has no right to is the biggest insult,” Erdogan said. “We are not hurling threats, we’re just waiting.”
While the CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu took office as Istanbul’s new mayor last month, the AKP won 25 of the city’s 39 districts and the majority of seats in the municipal council. It has said that this proved irregularities had taken place.
Speaking to his supporters on Saturday, Imamoglu said the AKP appeals were unreasonable.
“So the 25 districts are all clean, the municipal council votes are perfect, but when it comes to the mayorship, there is an irregularity. We can only laugh at this,” Imamoglu said.
Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Gareth Jones and Ros Russell