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Erdogan sees ‘theft’ in Istanbul vote results

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday questioned the results of Istanbul’s mayoral elections which his party candidate narrowly los.

The President said that there had been “theft at the ballot box”.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has sought a recount in the capital Ankara and Istanbul citing irregularities after tallies showed the party was defeated in both cities last week.

Erdogan’s remarks appeared to signal more AKP challenges over Istanbul, the country’s economic hub and largest city, echoing commentary in pro-government media denouncing a “ballot box putsch” during the March 31 election.

“We are seeing that some organised crimes have been carried out,” Erdogan said at a press conference before a trip to Russia, without giving details. “There is an element of robbery in all of this. There was some theft at the ballot box.”

Erdogan said the margin between the two Istanbul candidates was too small for anyone to claim victory, suggesting when there was a problem with a percentage of votes in other countries, appeals and even new elections were not unusual.

“No one has the right to declare themselves victorious with a difference of around 13,000-14,000 votes,” Erdogan said.

In Ankara, the Supreme Electoral Council on Monday officially handed opposition CHP candidate Mansur Yavas his mandate.

Erdogan’s AKP won most votes nationwide in the election, but voters appeared to punish the party in the two big cities with Turkey’s economy in recession and inflation in double digits after a currency crisis last year.

Defeat in Istanbul would be especially sensitive for Erdogan who grew up in one of its working-class districts and began his political career as the city’s mayor.

AKP’s candidate for Istanbul, former premier Binali Yildirim, and opposition CHP’s Ekrem Imamoglu both declared victory soon after initial results showed a dead heat.

Electoral authorities later said Imamoglu was winning by around 20,000 ballots, but that gap has narrowed during a week of recounting. The difference is now less than 16,000 ballots. The two candidates each received more than four million votes.