Turkey's opposition takes office in Istanbul, appeal still pending

Initial results from the March 31 local elections gave a narrow victory to the main opposition Republican People’s Party in Istanbul. Above, opposition supporters celebrate during a gathering in Istanbul. (AFP)
Updated 17 April 2019

Turkey's opposition takes office in Istanbul, appeal still pending

  • Final result shows narrow victory in Istanbul for opposition CHP
  • Loss of Istanbul is heavy blow for Erdogan

ISTANBUL/ANKARA: Turkey's main opposition candidate was declared Istanbul's mayor on Wednesday after election recounts were finally completed, despite an appeal still pending by President Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party to re-run the vote in the country's largest city.
The final result of the March 31 local elections showed a narrow victory for the secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Turkey's commercial hub, ending 25 years of control by the AK Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors.
The loss is especially hard for Erdogan, who launched his political career in Istanbul as mayor in the 1990s and has triumphed in more than a dozen elections since his Islamist-rooted AKP came to power in 2002.
The Turkish lira, which has dipped since the election, firmed on Wednesday.
As he formally took office after a campaign which featured months of harsh rhetoric from Erdogan's AK Party and more than two weeks of challenges and recounts, Ekrem Imamoglu promised to work for all 16 million residents of the city.
"We never gave up, we never gave up on our battle for democracy and rights," he told supporters at Istanbul's municipality building. "We are aware of our responsibilities and the needs of this city. We will start to serve immediately."
Imamoglu's margin of victory - the final count put him some 13,000 votes, or less than 0.2 percentage points, ahead of the AK Party candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim - prompted several AKP challenges.
On Tuesday, after 16 days of appeals and recounts, the AKP asked the High Election Board (YSK) to annul and re-run the election in Istanbul over what it said were irregularities. Its nationalist MHP allies made a similar request on Wednesday.
"We are aware there are ongoing processes... We hope the relevant authorities will complete these processes in the most sensitive and just way," Imamoglu said.

"TOO MANY IRREGULARITIES"
The repeated challenges by the AKP and MHP have fuelled frustration among opposition 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.
"There are way too many irregularities," AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said, presenting the party's justification for its demand for a new vote. "We are saying that organised fraud, unlawfulness and crimes were committed."
CHP Deputy Chairman Muharrem Erkek responded that there were "no concrete documents, information or evidence in the AKP appeal for an annulment."
"There is no legitimate reason at all. You are using your right (to appeal) to damage the will of Istanbul," he said.
While the AKP was defeated in the battle for Istanbul mayor, results showed the party had won most seats in its municipal councils. The AKP's re-run appeal applies only to the mayoral elections, not those for municipal councils.
Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers, said it was puzzling to call only for a re-run of the mayoral elections, and added that some of the areas where the AKP claimed fraud took place were under its responsibility.
Uncertainty over the election results has also put pressure on financial markets, pushing the lira down nearly 5 percent.
"From the market perspective, an extended period of uncertainty around elections is a bad idea — it would suggest more election-related policy easing which is bad for the rebalancing story," Tim Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, told Reuters.
Erdogan had vowed that Turkey would enter a four and half year period with no elections after March 31, during which the ailing economy would be the focus. If the AKP appeal is upheld, Istanbul, which makes up more than a third of Turkey's economy, will head to polls again on June 2.


Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

Updated 14 min 24 sec ago

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

  • Health personnel in protective gear took the temperature of disembarking passengers
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.
The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late Sunday morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.
It showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.
The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.
An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport waiting to transport the passengers.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army, he said.
Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines has said flights would also land in Beirut on Sunday from Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan.
It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.
They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.
The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.
But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.
Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.
Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.
On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.
Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.
Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who can’t afford it.
The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive — $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example — because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.