By Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu
ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party formally requested on Tuesday an annulment and rerun of Istanbul's municipal elections over what it said were irregularities, prompting the main opposition to accuse it of damaging democracy.
Initial results from the March 31 vote showed the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) narrowly won control of Turkey's largest city, thereby ending 25 years of control of a key power center by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.
The loss of Istanbul, Turkey's financial hub, would be a blow to Erdogan, who campaigned hard ahead of the vote. The post-vote uncertainty has kept financial markets on edge and contributed to a nearly 5 percent slide in the lira.
In the 16 days since the election, the AKP has filed numerous appeals for vote recounts across Istanbul, a city of more than 15 million people. The High Election Board (YSK) has approved some of those objections, ordering partial or full recounts in several districts. Some are still underway.
Submitting his party's appeal for the annulment and renewal of the vote to the YSK on Tuesday, AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said thousands of votes had been impacted by the irregularities.
"There is clearly an organized unlawfulness, an election fraud here. The only authority that can end this controversy is the YSK," Yavuz told reporters in the capital Ankara.
The AKP has already lost control of Ankara and other key cities. Defeat in Istanbul, where Erdogan was mayor in the 1990s, would be an even greater setback to the president.
The AKP urged electoral officials to block the YSK from giving CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu his mayoral mandate after the Istanbul recounts are completed and a final result emerges.
CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak branded the AKP appeal for renewed elections as a "plot" and called on the YSK to mandate Imamoglu as the elected mayor of the city.
"The authority that will put a stop to this exploitation, who will hand the right the people gave to the person who earned it is the High Election Board," Oztrak told reporters.
"If there is security and predictability of the law in this country, then the YSK's decision should already be clear."
SUITCASES OF DOCUMENTS
The AKP's Yavuz said 16,884 votes were marked as either invalid or added to the tallies of other parties in the elections. He said the AKP had submitted three suitcases of documents to the YSK to prove the irregularities.
If the appeal is approved, a second election would take place on June 2. If rejected, the results would be finalised and the CHP's Ekrem Imamoglu would receive his mandate as mayor.
Yavuz said the gap between Imamoglu and his AKP rival, former Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim, had fallen to 13,900 votes from around 28,000 as a result of the recounts.
If all votes had been recounted across the city the AKP would have won, Yavuz added.
The repeated AKP challenges have fueled frustration among CHP supporters, which spilled over into football stadiums at the weekend when fans chanted at top Istanbul derby matches for the mayoral mandate to be given to their candidate.
Speaking on Tuesday to supporters chanting "give Imamoglu the mandate" in Istanbul, Imamoglu said the AKP actions harmed the credibility of Turkey's democracy.
"To those who said they carried what they call evidence in suitcases, I say: I think you are experiencing an eclipse of reasoning. Stop this, don't harm this nation, these people," he said.
(Additional reporting by Sarah Dadouch and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones)