The Turkish Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s spokesperson Ömer Çelik on Tuesday said the party would focus on implementing important reforms in the four-year period without elections after last Sunday’s Istanbul mayoral election rerun.
The AKP’s candidate in the Istanbul vote, Binali Yıldırım, was roundly beaten by opposition candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, who increased the razor-thin lead in the first vote on March 31 by over 50 times to win by over 800,000 votes on Sunday.
But Çelik stressed the AKP’s success in the March 31 vote, which brought the party control of the majority of Istanbul districts, and said any successes in Istanbul under İmamoğlu’s reign will be achieved “under (President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s) patronage and with his support”.
Çelik said the seven election campaigns in the last five years in Turkey had put a strain on the citizens and the party cadres, but that with the next elections scheduled for 2023, Turkey would enjoy a “golden period” of reform.
The AKP spokesman raised the reform to military service laws ratified on Tuesday that reduced the period of service by half, and said an extensive legal reform is in the works.
On the subject of the electoral rerun, which Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) ordered after annulling the first vote in a controversial decision widely seen as taken under pressure from the government, Çelik praised the council for its performance despite what he said were “threats” from opposition parties.
The spokesperson added that by handing over power without a hitch after governing Istanbul for 25 years, the AKP had shown its respect for democracy.
İmamoğlu won the initial mayoral vote on March 31 by around 14,000 votes, but the ruling party demanded recounts and an annulment after claiming the election had been “stolen”. International observers including representatives from the European Union said the decision to annul the vote had raised serious questions about the YSK’s independence.
Çelik also addressed a message sent to voters before Sunday’s vote by Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Öcalan urged voters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which had pledged its support to İmamoğlu, to instead seek a “third way” by remaining neutral in the vote.
The letter from the PKK leader was widely seen as a last ditch attempt by the ruling party to gain an advantage in the Istanbul vote, but Çelik denied the claims and said the leak was the sole responsibility of the Kurdish academic who had received the letter from Öcalan during a rare visit to the prison on İmralı island where he is held.
The incident had exposed the “dirty relationship” between Öcalan, the PKK administration, and Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the HDP, Çelik said.
The week before the election, Demirtaş urged his party’s voters to support the opposition.