Ten days after it annulled Turkey’s most dramatic election upset in years, the country’s electoral authority faces a barrage of questions from opposition parties who say there was no legal basis to cancel the vote.
The High Election Board said irregularities affected the outcome of the March 31 mayoral election in Istanbul, when the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) narrowly defeated President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP).
It ruled that the vote in Turkey’s largest city and commercial hub, the biggest prize in the nationwide local elections, be rerun next month because some polling officials were not civil servants, as required by voting regulations.
The decision to reverse Erdogan’s rare election setback 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.
“A game where those who come with elections don’t leave with elections was approved by a gang influencing the YSK,” CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak said last week. “A coup was carried out on the ballots, which are the last bastion of democracy.”
Erdogan’s party says it provided concrete evidence of wrongdoing in the electoral process and the election board acted solely on the information available. “The power of the ruling party was never used on the YSK,” an AKP official told Reuters.
The AKP described the irregularities in the mayoral vote as “organized crime” which affected the outcome. The AKP has said the rerun of the mayoral election was aimed at ensuring that the public will was reflected in the ballot.
The YSK decision was passed by a 7-4 majority. Its 11 members, all judges, are chosen by Turkey’s two highest courts whose members are selected by a judicial council appointed partly by parliament and partly by the president.
The Election Board has yet to publish a detailed explanation for its decision. “When the reasoning is finished, we’ll share it,” YSK head Sadi Guven, who was part of the dissenting minority, told reporters on Wednesday.