Invalidation of Yalova polls adds to concerns about election fraud

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) on Monday annulled the results of the March 30 local elections in the northwestern province of Yalova, boosting concerns that the board is acting unfairly in an attempt to affect the results.

The invalidation of the results added fuel to already high tension between the ruling and opposition parties.

After the elections, the ballots were recounted several times in the province and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Vefa Salman was declared the winner and new mayor of Yalova. Salman beat his rival, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) candidate Yakup Kocal, by just six votes.

The ruling AK Party recently filed a complaint about the Yalova election results.

The YSK said seven votes were cast in the province by people who were not permitted by law to vote, and thus the board decided to annul the March 30 election.

The Yalova elections will be re-run on June 1. The YSK decision drew the ire of the main opposition CHP, whose officials accuse the board of acting unfairly. According to the CHP, although the YSK dismissed petitions for recounts in Ankara, where the AK Party won by a small margin against the CHP, the same board has welcomed petitions from the governing party.

Salman said the YSK decision was politically motivated.

“I don’t believe that the decision was based on the law. I was prepared for such a decision. I trust God’s justice. Yalova residents elected me to be their mayor, but the YSK made an unfair decision. This injustice does not target just me. It also targets all the people who voted for me,” he stated.

The CHP candidate also said he will again be the winner when the elections are held again. “This is no longer an election between the AK Party and the CHP. This is now a fight for rights and the law. They may cancel the election results or do other things. But I am sure that voters in Yalova will re-elect me as their mayor,” he added.

CHP parliamentary group deputy chairman Muharrem Ince said his party will not seek to have the annulment of the Yalova election overturned in the Constitutional Court or any other judicial body. “We do not trust this country’s courts or the YSK. We just trust the people. The people of Yalova will give the best answer on June 1,” he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his expectation that the election results in Yalova would be invalidated.

The YSK decision coming just after the prime minister’s statement has raised suspicions, according to Ince.

“The YSK has fulfilled an order from the prime minister by canceling the election results in Yalova. The board’s decision is political; it is not lawful,” Ince stated.

CHP Deputy Chairman Umut Oran said the YSK is making decisions that favor the AK Party. “Even if the elections in Yalova are re-run dozens of times, Yalova will not surrender to the AK Party. Yalova voters will protect their [political] will at the ballot box,” he said.

After the March 30 elections, several allegations of election fraud were raised and votes were recounted in many places. Claims emerged that the AK Party pressured local election boards and the YSK to change the results. The YSK has drawn significant criticism for making rulings that were primarily in favor of the AK Party.

The opposition parties complain that the YSK accepted most of the challenges filed by the AK Party to contest the results of the March 30 elections, but rejected challenges from the opposition parties. The opposition says such practices have cast serious doubts on the board’s objectivity.

CHP Deputy Chairman Bulent Tezcan said the YSK officially declared its subordination to the AK Party by invalidating the election results in Yalova. “This sin will spell the end of the YSK,” he stated.

AK Party Deputy Chairman Bulent Arinc said the Yalova decision was part of an “ordinary procedure” and added: “The AK Party will prepare well for the new elections. It will exert its utmost to win the mayoral posts of all provinces and districts where the elections will be rerun.”

The AK Party candidate for mayor of Yalova, Kocal, said he will win the elections on June 1. He said the CHP has been carrying out a smear campaign against him for the past two weeks. “We [the AK Party] have drawn serious lessons from the March 30 elections. We worked to appeal to voters by telling them about our projects for Yalova. We do not take the CHP’s smear campaign seriously. The campaign is ongoing. We will tell our people the facts.”

The YSK also canceled the election results in Agri in early April upon a challenge brought to the board by the AK Party. Similarly, the YSK nullified the results in the Guroymak district of Bitlis and the Mahmudiye district of Eskisehir following AK Party challenges. The board, however, rejected an appeal submitted by the CHP to rerun the local elections in Ankara. The main opposition party claims there were incorrect procedures used and violations of the rules related to 6,240 of the signed election records in Ankara.

CHP’s Yavas appeals to top court

Late Monday, CHP Ankara candidate Mansur Yavas announced that he had submitted an appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the election results in the province.

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) rejected a challenge filed by Yavas last week to contest the recent voting results in 25 towns in Ankara province.

After the capital’s provincial election board declined the CHP plea for the local elections in Ankara to be annulled and held again, the main opposition party took its case to the YSK.

Despite initial results indicating that the AK Party candidate, Melih Gokcek, won the tight contest by a very small margin, the CHP did not cede the race, claiming that the elections were rigged.

Demanding a recount of the votes in Ankara, the CHP contested the election results in 25 towns.

The YSK’s decision is final and there is no appeal process. Yavas, as a result, is continuing his challenge in the Constitutional Court as a last resort.

Yavas said on his Twitter account on Monday that he used his right to make an individual appeal to the Constitutional Court and that he has complete confidence that the high court will handle the case justly.

According to the CHP candidate, who lost to Gokcek by less than 1 percent of the total valid ballots cast, some 32,000 votes, if the ballots are recounted he may emerge as the victor in the race.