Turkey election fraud claims emerge as Twitter ban is dropped

Four days after Turkey’s ruling AK party triumphed in nationwide elections it was forced to beat back allegations of voter fraud while bowing to a constitutional court verdict overturning its controversial ban on Twitter.

The fraud allegations and the Twitter case together underscored the bitterness of the country’s politics and deepened concerns as jockeying has already begun for an inaugural presidential election in August.

Mansur Yavas, the opposition candidate in the showpiece race for mayor of Ankara, has alleged that irregularities plagued initial counts that put him 32,000 votes – less than 1 per cent of the total – behind the ruling party incumbent.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were still no official figures for Ankara. But Mr Yavas’s Republican People’s Party, or CHP, demanded a recount, arguing that results from about 250 ballot boxes were incorrectly entered into the central electoral system, so creating a question-mark over 75,000 votes.

“There are serious violations,” said Gokhan Gunaydin, a deputy chairman of the party. “Officials should give the public a satisfactory explanation as soon as possible.”

Melih Gokcek, the current mayor for the ruling AK party, has denied fraud allegations and argued that a lack of support on the city council would make it impossible for Mr Yavas to govern.

Voter fraud has not been a usual feature of Turkish elections. Erik Meyersson, a Turkey specialist at the Stockholm School of Economics, identified a correlation between AK party leads in Ankara and the number of ballots declared invalid – but could not establish definitively whether fraud took place.

“The CHP is trying to look for a smoking gun,” Mr Meyersson said. “Even smoking guns can be relatively insignificant, but if you show something that went wrong, it gives you time to look for other problems.”

The battle over Ankara is particularly important because protecting the AK party’s control over the capital was one of the chief priorities of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, who transformed Sunday’s local election into a virtual referendum on himself.

Although the election was widely seen as a victory for Mr Erdogan, with the party scoring about 44 per cent nationally, it was one of the most chaotic in recent history, with different initial figures provided by the state-controlled Anadolu Agency and the Cihan news agency, which is linked to Fethullah Gulen, an ally-turned-foe of the prime minister.

Later analysis of the figures has indicated an almost 2m drop in the Islamist-rooted AK party’s vote compared with the last nationwide elections in 2011, while the secularist CHP vote stayed stable and smaller nationalist and religious parties saw large increases in support.

Election night was also marked by a series of power cuts, one of which Taner Yildiz, Turkey’s energy minister, blamed on a cat entering a electricity distribution unit.

Official results have still not emerged, and, in a sign of the turbulence, the AK party itself suggested it would call for a revote in Adana and Hatay, two municipalities it lost to the CHP, and a recount in its rival’s stronghold of Izmir.

Meanwhile, Mr Erdogan himself suffered a reversal on another front, with the constitutional court’s ruling that the Twitter ban instituted by Mr Erdogan violated the principle of free speech.

After almost 24 hours of hesitation following the judgment, the ban was lifted on Thursday – despite the prime minister’s previous vow to “root out” the microblogging platform, which had been used to distribute a stream of corruption allegations.

The leak online of allegations and recordings – many of which the government says have been doctored – have been halted for present. But more could appear, if, as Mr Erdogan suggested on election night, he follows up his victory with a crackdown on the Gulenist movement, which has many followers in state institutions.

The prime minister will also soon decide whether to run in Turkey’s inaugural presidential elections in August – an issue that Abdullah Gul, the country’s current president, who may seek to exchange jobs with Mr Erdogan, said is now up for discussion.

“The day to talk about the presidency has arrived,” Mr Gul said this week. ‘By the beginning of May it will be clear.”

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