By Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday the March 31 local elections were marred by “organised crime” at ballot boxes in Istanbul, and his comment drove down Turkey’s lira and assets as markets worried about a potential re-run of the vote.
Erdogan’s AK Party has already lost the mayoralty in the capital Ankara to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and is challenging initial results showing a narrow CHP victory in Turkey’s largest city.
The AKP is reeling from the potential loss of both cities, which the party and its Islamist predecessors have governed for a quarter century. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.
Erdogan said the scale of electoral irregularities his party had uncovered meant the margin of votes between Istanbul’s top two candidates, less than 20,000 in a city of 10 million voters, was too narrow for the opposition to claim victory.
The AKP has appealed to the High Election Board (YSK) for a full recount of votes cast in the election across all 39 districts of Istanbul. The YSK is looking into the AKP’s challenges but has not commented on Erdogan’s accusations.
Partial recounts have already been carried out in Istanbul, which have narrowed the initial lead for CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem Imamoglu from 25,000 to a little less than 16,000 after more than 90 percent of those recounts.
“The citizens are telling us to protect their rights, they are complaining of organised crimes,” Erdogan told a press conference in Istanbul. “And we, as political parties, have determined such organised crimes.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the secularist CHP, warned that the security of the election was in danger and called on the election board to be impartial. He added that Erdogan’s request for a full recount lacked a reasonable justification.
“Now the High Electoral Board has entered a process that damages the security of the ballot boxes, the security of the election. This is the real danger,” Kilicdaroglu told reporters in Ankara.
The Turkish lira weakened to as far as 5.7120 against the dollar on Monday after Erdogan’s remarks.
“Will the Istanbul election be repeated? This question has sent the lira down,” an Istanbul-based banker said. A resumption of weekly repo auctions by the Central Bank had added to lira weakness, the banker added.
The AKP had also sought recounts across Ankara, where initial results showed CHP candidate Mansur Yavas winning by four percentage points But the YSK upheld the result and on Monday Yavas formally received his mandate as new mayor.
Erdogan said he would only accept the Istanbul result when the YSK had processed all the appeals.
“Nobody has the right to get in an election victory mood in a city of 10 million voters with a margin of 13,000-14,000. When the appeals have been completed, we will accept the result.”
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)