Erdogan’s AKP demands formal rerun of Istanbul vote

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayoral candidate, Ekrem Imamoglu, waves to the crowd during a rally in Istanbul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 16 April 2019

Erdogan’s AKP demands formal rerun of Istanbul vote

  • The AKP had demanded a recount and vowed to appeal for a new vote in Istanbul
  • Opposition candidate CHP Ekrem Imamoglu has accused the AKP of “unfair play” and declared himself mayor

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party on Tuesday formally demanded a rerun of Istanbul’s local ballot after contesting last month’s election results that gave the opposition the victory.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) got most votes nationwide in the March 31 election but its loss of the capital Ankara and Istanbul, the country’s economy hub, was a major setback after a decade and half in power.

The AKP had demanded a recount and vowed to appeal for a new vote in Istanbul, citing alleged irregularities, after the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) won the city by a slim margin.

The Supreme Electoral Council, known by its Turkish initials YSK, must now rule on whether the AKP’s formal demand for a new election has any merit.

“We have come here to submit our extraordinary request for the election for the Istanbul metropolitan municipality to be annulled and repeated,” AKP deputy chief Ali Ihsan Yavuz told reporters outside the YSK.

Local media showed images of AKP officials wheeling suitcases containing what they said was evidence of electoral irregularities into the YSK headquarters in Ankara.

It was unclear how long YSK officials could take to rule on the appeal, but lingering uncertainty over the Istanbul result more than two weeks after the ballot is one factor worrying foreign investors and weighing on the lira.

A new Istanbul election would be held in June 2 if the appeal is recognized, according to local media.

A recount of void ballots in Istanbul is still ongoing after the AKP said it found irregularities in several districts.

Opposition candidate CHP Ekrem Imamoglu has accused the AKP of “unfair play” and declared himself mayor. But the margin between him and the AKP’s Binali Yildirim remains very tight.

A defeat in Istanbul would be especially sensitive for Erdogan, who grew up in one of its deprived neighborhoods and built his political career after being Istanbul mayor himself in the 1990s.

The AKP has won every election since it came to power 17 years ago. But voters appeared to punish the party this time after a currency crisis last year badly hurt Turkish households and pitched the economy into recession.

Erdogan himself has described the Istanbul vote as marred by “organized crimes” and last week called for the ballot to be annulled.

After the ballot, electoral authorities had said CHP’s Imamoglu was ahead by nearly 30,000 ballots. But that margin has narrowed to around 14,000 after a recount of void ballots over the last fortnight.

The CHP said on Tuesday the margin was now around 13,800 ballots in favor of its candidate with only around 80 ballot boxes left to count. Each candidate had won around 4 million votes.

Although he was not personally running in the election Erdogan campaigned hard in the city, presenting the vote as a matter of national survival. He put forward Yildirim, a former premier and AKP heavyweight, as the party candidate.

Imamoglu, a former mayor of a local Istanbul district, ran a low-key campaign, rallying door to door to talk over local issues. He is already being credited with having revived the opposition’s profile nationwide.


Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

Updated 22 min 48 sec ago

Leader of banned charity leader seeks asylum from Turkey amid Macron-Erdogan row

  • Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France

ANKARA: The prospect of granting asylum to Idriss Sihamedi, the founder of a Muslim charity that has been shut down in France over his alleged ties to the “radical Islamist movement,” stirred debate about the potential repercussions amid the already escalating French-Turkish spat.

The Turkish interior ministry announced on Oct. 29 that Ankara will assess Sihamedi’s request for himself and his team after receiving his official application.

Sihamedi, the founder of the BarakaCity NGO, claimed that he no longer felt safe in France. His NGO was closed officially on Oct. 28 on the grounds that it “incites hate, has relations with the radical Islamist movement and justifies terrorist acts.”

He posted his asylum request on his official Twitter account in both French and Turkish, tagging Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He also alleged he had received death threats.

His post received a quick reply from the Turkish interior ministry’s migration management department: “Hello Sihamedi. If you and your colleagues were to personally apply to our institution with your surname, first name, identity information, petition for an asylum request and your passport number, your request will be assessed.”

However, experts think that proceeding with the asylum request of such radicals means playing with fire.

“I think Erdogan is continuing to play a dangerous game by courting relationships with radical figures and in some cases jihadists,” Colin Clarke, senior research fellow on terror-financing networks at the Soufan Center, told Arab News. “Turkey is already viewed as a hot spot for jihadists given its proximity to Iraq and Syria.”

Sihamedi is accused of inciting hatred, encouraging people to violent acts, maintaining relations within the radical Islamist movement, money laundering in the name of Salafi organisations and expressing support for Hitler and the Nazis. He is also blamed for organizing suicide attacks and supporting Daesh.

According to Clarke, if Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi and his team, it may create trouble, both domestically but also with NATO allies.

“Moving forward with actions like this could easily backfire on Turkey and cause considerable blowback. I find these overt flirtations with radical Islamists counterproductive and short-sighted,” he said.

Sihamedi was deported from Turkey last year in May at France’s request and his passport was confiscated at Istanbul airport.

BarakaCity was founded in 2010 in Evry-Courcouronnes (Essonne). The Islamic humanitarian NGO has been closely monitored by French intelligence since 2014. Its buildings were raided several times in 2015 and 2017, and it was investigating for “terrorist financing” and “terrorist criminal association” for three years.

The NGO has said it wants to move its headquarters to another country. At a time when relations between Paris and Ankara are more strained than ever, the Turkish branch of the NGO is headed by a Franco-Turkish national known for his Salafi credentials.

“The French government dissolved BarakaCity also because in the past the NGO received money from Samy Amimour, a member of the Bataclan terrorist commando group in  2015, and from Larossi Abballa, who in 2016 killed a policeman and his wife in Magnanville,” said Matteo Pugliese, associate research fellow at Milan-based think tank ISPI.

“According to the French government, BarakaCity provides a sort of ideological justification for violent radicals, especially when it calls for the punishment of those who publish cartoons or criticize Islam. I think that we are talking about a grey zone, where non-violent extremism meets violent radicalization.”

Sihamedi was released under judicial supervision and is due to face trial in December.

French government also announced plans to dissolve other associations suspected of supporting extremist ideologies.

“If Turkey grants asylum to Sihamedi, France will use this to accuse the country of sheltering Islamists who radicalize people with online propaganda,” Pugliese said. “This is part of the verbal escalation between Macron and Erdogan and will be used by both for political internal goals.”