Opposition chiefs talk strategy for Istanbul vote re-run

Istanbul (AFP) –


The Turkish opposition candidate stripped of his mayoral post after a controversial order to re-run the Istanbul vote was holding talks with his party leader on Tuesday to discuss strategy.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has condemned the decision by Turkey's top election body to renew the election as "neither democratic nor legitimate".

Ekrem Imamoglu, who won the disputed vote in Istanbul by a narrow margin in the March 31 local election, met with CHP chief Kemal Kilicdaroglu and will later meet Good Party leader Meral Aksener, the CHP said.

The talks come a day after the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) called for a replay of the Istanbul election after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling party complained of "irregularities" and "organised crime".

The loss of Istanbul, the country's economic hub and largest city, had been a shocking defeat for the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The party and its predecessors have ruled the city for 25 years.

Imamoglu, a softly-spoken former district mayor, gave the opposition new hope after his stunning win in Istanbul.

His narrow victory was especially sensitive for Erdogan, who grew up in the metropolis and rose to power as premier and then president after also serving as Istanbul mayor.

In his speech, Imamoglu however vowed he would not give up but emerge even stronger in the next election scheduled for June 23.

"Maybe you are upset but never lose your hope," he told thousands of his supporters in the Beylikduzu district on Istanbul's outskirts, where he was previously mayor.

- 'Absolute power'-

The CHP's spokesman Faik Oztrak slammed the YSK's decision as a "coup dealt at the ballot box", adding, "YSK order makes the will of the electorate null and void".

The loss of the mayorship in Istanbul, and a more resounding defeat in the capital Ankara, reflected widespread concern over the deteriorating economy.

The defeated mayoral candidate, former prime minister Binali Yildirim, a strong Erdogan ally, said he hoped the re-run would "be beneficial for our city".

The European Union said on Monday the justification for the "far-reaching decision" made by the election body "should be made available for public scrutiny without delay".

"Ensuring a free, fair and transparent election process is essential to any democracy and is at the heart of the European Union's relations with Turkey," EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement.

Thousands of Imamoglu supporters took to the streets in the Kadikoy district on the Asian side of Istanbul on Monday night -- a CHP bastion -- to protest the re-run ruling.

Erdogan's critics say he has eroded rights by cracking down on dissent at home but for his supporters he maintains the image of a strong leader who speaks up for Turkey in the international arena.

The US-based think tank the Soufan Center said the YSK decision marked "serious concerns" for the future of democracy in Turkey.

"Given restrictions on freedom of speech and Turkey's increasingly less independent judiciary, the recent election meddling is a clear signal to the Turkish people, and the world, that Erdogan is willing to pursue absolute power at any cost."

Amid renewed political uncertainty, the Turkish lira was down 1.37 percent to 6.16 against the US dollar before 0800 GMT.

The currency has lost over 12 percent in value so far this year against the greenback.