Erdogan's AK Party to seek recount of all Istanbul votes

By Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is greeted by his supporters as he leaves a mosque after the Friday prayers in Istanbul, Turkey April 5, 2019. Cem Oksuz/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) - President Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party is seeking a full recount of all votes cast in local elections in Istanbul, a senior party official said on Sunday, a week after initial results showed a narrow victory for Turkey's main opposition party.

The AKP is reeling from its apparent loss of the mayoralties of Istanbul and the capital Ankara, both cities which the party and its Islamist predecessors have dominated for a quarter of a century. Erdogan himself rose to prominence as Istanbul's mayor in the 1990s before emerging as national leader.

His party has already appealed the initial results in all 39 districts of the city of 15 million people, leading to partial or full recounts across Turkey's largest city.

So far the initial lead held by Ekrem Imamoglu, mayoral candidate for the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), has narrowed from 25,000 immediately after the vote to a little over 16,000 after 70 percent of the recounts were completed.

With both Imamoglu and his rival, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, securing more than 4.1 million votes, the margin of victory is likely to be extremely slim, but Imamoglu has said the appeals and recounts will not change the outcome.

AKP deputy party chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said there was "organized misconduct" in the original count, and the party will appeal to the High Election Body (YSK), the final arbiter on electoral disputes, for all Istanbul votes to be recounted.

"We chose the path to eliminate numerical mistakes. But it's not over," he told reporters in televised comments on Sunday.

PAINFUL LOSS

The losses in Ankara and Istanbul, if confirmed, would be especially painful for Erdogan, who campaigned relentlessly for the local elections.

For most of his 16 years in power he has overseen strong economic growth, largely supported by a construction boom funded with cheap debt, which has won backing for the AKP beyond its base of pious, conservative Turks.

But sharp falls in the lira have tipped the economy into recession, eroding some support in the buildup to the vote.

Erdogan's party, which together with its nationalist MHP ally won more than 51 percent of the countrywide vote for local offices on March 31, says its overall performance was a victory. But that is scant compensation for losing the main cities.

Spokesman Omer Celik said on Saturday the party would accept the final verdict of the YSK. "Whoever is declared winner by High Election Board, we will accept that," he told reporters.

Speaking shortly after Yavuz announced the AKP's latest appeal, Imamoglu said it was time for the party to accept defeat. He also promised "to reconcile this city" and to work closely with the president.

"I understand the feeling of defeat of the people who demanded a recount," Imamoglu said. "You managed this city for 25 years. It is not easy, you lost. But democracy is like that - democracy is not a one-way path."

(Editing by Dominic Evans and Peter Graff)