Turkey's ruling AKP to challenge Istanbul election results

AKP appeals with electoral authorities may signal more ruling party challenges to the surprise opposition victories in key cities.

ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP on Tuesday appealed against results in Istanbul and Ankara following a weekend election after tallies showed the ruling party lost both key cities.

Erdogan's AKP and coalition partner won more than 50 percent of votes nationwide in Sunday's local ballot, but defeat in both Turkey's capital and its economic hub would be a setback after the party's decade and a half in power.

The AKP appeals with electoral authorities, who have two days to decide whether the claims of irregularities have merit, may signal more ruling party challenges to the surprise opposition victories.

"We have filed our objections with the electoral authorities in all 39 districts," AKP's Istanbul chief Bayram Senocak told reporters. "We have identified irregularities and falsifications."

He said the party had found an "excessive" difference between votes cast at ballot stations for their candidate and the data sent to electoral authorities.

Hakan Han Ozcan, AKP's Ankara chairman, told reporters they were also filing an appeal in 25 districts of the capital. Anadolu state news agency said results showed CHP opposition candidate Mansur Yavas with 50.93 percent of votes against 47.11 percent for the AKP.

Symbolic gesture

Istanbul, the largest city in the country, was a key prize for Erdogan and he had fielded former premier and loyalist Binali Yildirim as candidate for mayor.

But Istanbul was a very tight race and both Yildirim and the opposition CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu claimed victory in the early hours of Monday when tallies showed them in a dead heat.

Electoral authorities on Monday announced Imamoglu was ahead by 28,000 votes with nearly all ballot boxes tallied, prompting AKP officials to challenge to the result.

Imamoglu had 48.79 percent of the votes while Yildirim had 48.52 percent, Anadolu reported on Tuesday, citing preliminary results.

Imamoglu on Tuesday travelled to Ankara to lay flowers at the mausoleum of modern Turkey's founder Musfafa Kemal Ataturk in a highly symbolic gesture Erdogan often does himself soon after his election wins.

"Had the other party won, I would have said 'congratulations Mr Binali Yildirim', which I do not say because I am the one who won," Imamoglu told reporters.

"They are behaving like a kid who has been deprived of his toy."

AKP party spokesman Omer Celik on Monday had said they had found discrepancies between reports from polling stations and vote counts in both Ankara and Istanbul.

Curbs on free expression

Also on Monday, a European group observing the elections criticised what it said were curbs on free expression.

The head of the observer mission from the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities said people should be able to express opinions without fear of government reprisal.

"I am afraid we... are not fully convinced that Turkey currently has the free and fair electoral environment which is necessary for genuinely democratic elections in line with European values and principles," Andrew Dawson told reporters in Ankara.

"But we do take the fact that many parties have been successful as a positive sign of Turkey's democratic resilience."

The foreign ministry said the comments on civil liberties were "out of place" and beyond the group's remit, though Ankara would maintain a constructive approach towards election observers in the future.

Dawson said "there could be cause for concern" over any further delays but it was too soon to tell.

Erdogan, himself a former Istanbul mayor, had campaigned hard in the city. But despite daily rallies and overwhelmingly supportive media coverage, the president appears to have failed to assuage concerns among many voters over Turkey's tip toward economic recession after a currency crisis last year.

Last year, after Erdogan announced snap parliamentary and presidential elections for June, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Monitoring Committee voiced concern over their freedom and fairness and recommended they be postponed.

Turkey's then-prime minister told the European rights body "to mind its own business."