ISTANBUL — The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered a significant hit in the March 31 municipal elections. The leading opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) held onto important cities such as Izmir, Edirne and Tekirdağ, while winning back power in Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and other key races. Turkey's capital and biggest cities are back under CHP rule after decades of AKP leadership.

The AKP still won 44% of the votes nationwide, the largest tally of any party. Their ally, the nationalist Movement Party (MHP), increased the number of municipalities they govern by just 7% because of the alliance, as AKP and MHP had agreed not to run against each other. Their alliance took 51% of the votes nationwide.

Therefore, it is not possible to talk about an absolute victory for the CHP and their ally, the Good Party (IYI), despite the politically oppressive climate and economic crisis. The CHP had 30% of the overall vote, an increase of about 5%. Moreover, polls show that CHP voters went to the ballots not because of but in spite of their leader Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu. And it should be noted that Kiliçdaroğlu will again be mistaken if he takes last weekend's results as a victory, and forgets that he has lost 10 elections and referendums in the last ten years. Otherwise, the CHP will again be destined for a monumental disaster at the 2023 general elections, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Turkey. A change of leadership in the CHP before 2023 is essential. For the newly elected CHP mayors, the hard work starts now, and national elections in four years will largely be riding on their success.

The manipulation will be recorded as a black mark on Turkey's electoral history.

In the wake of the vote count, it is unacceptable that the AKP is trying to pressure the High Election Council, the ultimate authority on elections, into manipulating the results. AKP's Istanbul candidate Binali Yildirim declared his victory on the night of the election while the votes were still being counted, and the difference between him and CHP's Ekrem Imamoğlu was very close.

The state run Anatolia Agency stopped the data flow when the gap between Yildirim and Imamoğlu was closed. After the YSK declared that Imamoğlu came first in the race, Yildirim said: "There are 31,136 ballot boxes. If one vote is filled in incorrectly in each ballot box, this equals 31,136 votes, which is more than the difference." Then, the AKP started a power grab operation over the YSK by demanding recounts of invalid votes not only in Istanbul, but in other locations as well. This YSK's manipulation will be recorded as a black mark on Turkey's electoral history.

There were hundreds of thousands of invalid votes cast in this election, as there were in the past ones. Which invalid votes are being recounted at which ballots by the YSK and according to what procedure? The AKP and YSK are playing with fire. It is unavoidable that a major countrywide reaction will be sparked if the AKP steals Istanbul from the CHP.

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