US, EU call for free and fair vote as Istanbul elections to be re-run

The US has taken “note” of the decision of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) to order a new vote in Istanbul’s local elections, a State Department spokesperson told Kurdistan 24.

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US has taken “note” of the decision of Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) to order a new vote in Istanbul’s local elections, a State Department spokesperson told Kurdistan 24.

“We are studying the situation closely,” she said on Monday, adding, “A free, fair and transparent electoral process is a fundamental pillar of any democracy.”

On Monday, the YSK ruled that the March 31 vote in Istanbul should be held again on June 23.

Read more: Turkey electoral board rules re-run of Istanbul elections, sets date

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) narrowly lost Istanbul, Turkey’s financial capital, to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP.)

The AKP charged there had been significant voter fraud and called for a new vote, a bid the YSK has now endorsed.

“We expect a free, fair, and transparent electoral process to be fully respected by all involved so that the will of the voters is acknowledged in the results,” the State Department Spokesperson continued.

“A healthy Turkish democracy is in the interest of Turkey and its partners, including the United States, and helps ensure a stable, prosperous, and reliable ally,” she concluded.

The EU’s head of Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, and its Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, issued an even stronger statement, affirming, “The justification for this far-reaching decision to annul the results of the March 31 Istanbul election, taken in a highly politicized context, 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,” they continued, as they called on Ankara “to extend” its “invitation to international observers, such as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, to observe the re-run elections.”

The CHP candidate for mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, received 48.80 percent of the votes, while the AKP candidate, Binali Yildirim, a long-time ally of Erdogan and former speaker of the Turkish parliament, received 48.55 percent, with some 13,000 votes separating the two.

The YSK’s decision “unnerved investors already worried over the rule of law” in Turkey, “as well as the government’s commitment to fiscal and monetary policy discipline as it re-enters another election cycle during a sharp economic downturn,” the Financial Times reported late on Monday.

“The Turkish lira slid 2.2 percent against the dollar to trade past the six-per-dollar mark for the first time since October,” it said, but “pared some of its losses in afternoon US trading.”

Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a Senior Fellow at Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), writing with Merve Tahiroglu, a Research Analyst at FDD, attributed the YSK’s decision to re-run the Istanbul vote to pressure from Erdogan’s “ultranationalist coalition partners,” along with “business cronies who feed off Istanbul’s municipal spoils.”

The pair also noted that Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was allowed “to convey a statement to the public for the first time in four years,” as they suggested that Erdogan intended “to recapture Istanbul by pacifying the city’s Kurdish opposition.”

Read more: Lawyers visit PKK's Ocalan for first time in eight years

The EU statement also criticized a YSK decision last month to declare invalid the election of mayors and members of municipal councils in the Kurdish southeast, “even though their candidacies had been checked and validated before the elections.”

The YSK replaced the winning candidates, from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), with candidates from the AKP who finished in second place.

Read more: Turkey election board appoints AKP runners-up to replace Kurdish mayors-elect

Those YSK decisions “go against the core aim of a democratic electoral process to ensure that the will of the people prevails,” the EU statement affirmed.

“They also undermine the electoral process to which the Turkish people have shown their commitment by casting their votes in very large number as well as Turkey’s commitments as member of the Council of Europe,” it concluded.

Editing by Nadia Riva