ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday defended his party's plans to demand a full recount of votes cast in mayoral elections in Istanbul, claiming that "almost all" of the voting was marred by irregularities.
Erdogan suffered a major setback in last week's local elections after the opposition took control of the capital, Ankara, and won a tight race for Istanbul, after 25 years of rule by the ruling party and its Islamist party predecessor.
A partial recount of votes — mostly of ballot papers that were previously deemed invalid — demanded by Erdogan's ruling party, is taking place in several Istanbul districts, but the party said it will apply to the country's top electoral board to demand a recount of all of the ballots.
"The citizens are saying 'protect our rights, we are seeing that organized crimes have taken place,'" Erdogan told reporters before his departure for a visit to Moscow. "As a political party, we have determined that certain organized acts were carried out."
Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu's lead over the ruling party candidate, former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, in the Istanbul mayoral race narrowed to close to 16,000 votes from the initial 25,000 votes on Monday, after 90 percent of the invalidated ballots were recounted. An opposition alliance which backed Imamoglu is calling on Erdogan to concede that his party lost.
But Erdogan said that "nobody has the right to put on airs of victory in a city of more than 10 million voters with a 13,000-14,000-vote lead."
He added, however, that his party would accept results confirmed by the top electoral board.
Meral Aksener, the leader of the nationalist Good Party which backed Imamoglu, warned Erdogan to accept that his party was defeated.
"The people will never forgive those who disrespect their will," she said.
Meanwhile, the opposition candidate of Ankara, Mansur Yavas, on Monday received a document certifying his election as mayor and took over the municipality in a brief ceremony.
"May it be Istanbul's turn next," he said.