Turkish election board cites polling station irregularities in annulment decision

FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gets off a vintage tram at Taksim Square in central Istanbul, Turkey, May 12, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey's High Election Board (YSK) on Wednesday cited a series of irregularities, notably in the appointment of polling station officials, in justifying its annulment of March's mayoral election in Istanbul.

In a 250-page document it released more than two weeks after announcing that the ballot - which resulted in a razor-thin defeat for President Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party - was to be re-run on June 23, the YSK said the irregularities were sufficient to have an impact on the outcome.

"The irregularities were regarded as incidents which ...undermined election credibility," said the document. Four of the 11-member panel, included its head, voted against the annulment decision.

Final results from the March 31 election gave victory to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), ending a 25-year rule by the AKP and its Islamist predecessors.

However, after weeks of appeals by the AKP and its nationalist MHP allies, the election board decided on May 6 to annul the mandate of CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu.

The decision to reverse what was a rare election setback for Erdogan was described by Turkey's Western allies as incomprehensible. Critics said one of the last checks on his ever-tighter hold on power had suffered a damaging blow.

"It is a legal requirement that the heads of polling station be chosen from the list of civil servants," Wednesday's YSK document said.

Polling station heads were appointed in an illegal way for 754 ballot boxes and that this affected the result, given that the difference between the two top candidates was just 13,729 votes, it said.

Seven members of the electoral board voted in favor of the annulment, while four opposed it. Those against included YSK head Sadi Guven, who said the irregularities were not sufficient to justify voiding the election.

"Appeals after the election to the formation (of polling station committees) cannot alone be brought forward as a reason to annul the elections," Guven said in Wednesday's YSK statement.

The YSK had faced harsh criticism from opposition parties, who said the annulment had no legal basis and destroyed the last bastion of democracy under Erdogan.

(Reporting by Daren Butler; editing by John Stonestreet)