Erdoğan foes warn democracy at stake after vote quashed
Opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have warned the Turkish leader's grip on power is a threat to democracy after his party successfully overturned the Istanbul mayoral election result.
They said the Supreme Electoral Board's decision to invalidate the election after a narrow defeat for Mr Erdoğan's conservative and Islamic-based Justice and Development Party (JDP) gave him an even greater grip on power and Turkish democracy.
Ekrem Imamoglu of the opposition Republican People's Party won by a slender margin in the March 31 vote, defeating the ruling party candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim. The JDP then claimed a series of election irregularities made the results illegitimate.
The electoral board revoked Mr Imamoglu's victory and called a new election for June 23. As grounds to annul the March 31 results, the board said some ballot station heads were not civil servants as required by law.
Mr Yildirim said he hoped the decision would lead to "beneficial and beautiful results for Istanbul".
Presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said: "Having held free and fair elections for nearly seven decades, Turkey will complete this process in a transparent, lawful and orderly manner."
Addressing thousands of his supporters in Istanbul, Mr Imamoglu accused the electoral board of bowing to pressure and threats from the president's party. He vowed to use "democracy" to win back the "rights" he said were taken away by force.
The crowd called for the electoral board members to resign and accused Mr Erdoğan of stealing the vote.
Kati Piri, the European Parliament's rapporteur on Turkey, tweeted: "This ends the credibility of democratic transition of power through elections in Turkey."
Police set up barricades around the electoral board's headquarters in Turkey's capital Ankara, but there were no immediate signs of major demonstrations. Protesters banged pots and pans in several Istanbul neighbourhoods, the opposition 'Birgun' newspaper reported.
Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at the non-profit Project for Middle East Democracy and a Middle East history scholar at St Lawrence University in New York, said the ruling "removes the last fig leaf of competitive elections" hiding the erosion of democracy in Turkey.
"Turkey wasn't democratic yesterday and it's not democratic today," Mr Eissenstat said. He noted Mr Erdoğan's party previously invalidated election results in Turkey's mostly Kurdish-populated regions after a pro-Kurdish party won and replaced elected mayors with government appointees.
"Erdoğan cannot afford to lose in the second round. It would a disastrous display of weakness," Mr Eissenstat said.
The local elections held across Turkey on March 31 produced setbacks for the president. His party lost control in the capital as well as Istanbul, ending 25 years of the JDP and its Islamist predecessor governing both cities.
The loss of Istanbul, the country's commercial and cultural capital, was particularly hard for Mr Erdoğan, who began his political ascent as Istanbul's mayor.
At pre-election rallies, he had repeatedly told crowds, "Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey".