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Turkish opposition demands mandate as Istanbul recount continues

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By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition candidate in Istanbul urged the High Election Board (YSK) on Wednesday to confirm him as the elected mayor after it ruled in favor of a partial recount of votes in eight of the city’s 39 districts.

Initial results from Sunday’s mayoral elections showed the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had narrowly won control of Turkey’s two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara, in a shock upset for President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.

If those results are confirmed in the coming days, the CHP will gain control of municipal budgets with an estimated total value of 32.6 billion liras ($5.79 billion) for 2019 in Istanbul, Turkey’s commercial hub, and the capital Ankara.

Erdogan – who campaigned hard for the AKP ahead of the vote – would likely lose some oversight for local contracts in the two cities, possibly complicating his efforts to drag the Turkish economy out of recession.

However the AKP submitted objections to election results in all districts of Istanbul and Ankara, saying the results had been impacted by invalid votes and voting irregularities.

In Istanbul, CHP candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, and his AKP rival, ex-prime minister Binali Yildirim, both said on Monday that Imamoglu was about 25,000 votes ahead, a relatively slim margin in a city of some 15 million people.

The chairman of the Election Board (YSK), Sadi Guven, said on Wednesday it had ruled that the recount of what had been marked as invalid votes should go ahead in eight Istanbul districts, some of them AKP strongholds.

Imamoglu called on the YSK to “do its job” and name him mayor, accusing the AKP of disrespecting the people of Istanbul.

“We want justice. We demand our mandate from the YSK, which has given the numbers, as the elected mayor of this city… The world is watching us, the world is watching this city’s elections,” he told reporters.

“Three or four people acting like children who had their toys taken away should not damage this country’s reputation through their own internal fights.”

AKP Deputy Chairman Ali Ihsan Yavuz said his party was not doing anything illegal and added that the vote difference between Imamoglu and Yildirim had fallen to below 20,000 votes.

“We believe the reality will emerge tonight and we will all accept the results. Both Ekrem Imamoglu and the AK Party will have to accept the outcome,” Yavuz told reporters.

LOCAL PURSE STRINGS

Pro-government newspapers on Wednesday said there had been a conspiracy against Turkey in the local elections, with the Star newspaper likening this to an attempted military coup in 2016 and nationwide protests in 2013.

Yeni Safak newspaper editor Ibrahim Karagul called for a second vote after what he termed a “coup via elections”, adding without providing evidence that supporters of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen – blamed by Ankara for the 2016 coup attempt – were involved.

Ahead of the elections, the CHP had formed an electoral alliance with the Iyi (Good) Party to rival that of the AKP and their nationalist MHP partners. In Ankara, opposition candidate Mansur Yavas received 50.9 percent of votes on Sunday, nearly 4 percentage points ahead of his AKP rival.

In some 100 rallies during his election campaign, Erdogan had described the opposition alliance as terrorist supporters linked to Gulen’s network and Kurdish militants.

Erdogan’s political success has rested on years of stellar economic growth in Turkey, but a recession that has brought surging inflation and unemployment and a plunging lira have taken their toll on the president’s popularity.

While Erdogan’s ruling alliance won a nationwide majority of just under 52 percent of all votes, losing Ankara and Istanbul – the city where he started his political life – would significantly dent his dominance.

“It is by controlling the municipality that you keep your support happy because it is at the municipal level that you give away lots of things to your core base,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo political risk advisers.

Uncertainty generated by the local elections has added to volatility in the Turkish lira , which sold off sharply nearly two weeks ago, reflecting waning confidence among both Turks and international investors.

The lira was flat on Wednesday but slipped 2 percent on Tuesday after relations with Washington soured following a U.S. decision to halt delivery to Turkey of equipment related to the F-35 fighter aircraft.

Adding to investor concerns over fraying diplomatic ties and possible U.S. sanctions over the F-35 aircraft and missile defense, the U.S. State Department urged Ankara to respect the “legitimate election results”.

Ankara responded by warning against foreign interference.

“We urge all parties, including foreign governments, to respect the legal process and refrain from taking any steps that may be construed as meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs,” Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s presidential communications director, said on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Can Sezer, Daren Butler and Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

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