ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday defended his party's demand for a full recount in the Istanbul mayoral race, claiming irregularities marred "almost all" of the voting.
Erdogan suffered a major setback in the country's March 31 local elections. Opposition candidates won in Turkey's capital, Ankara, and squeezed out the president's party in Istanbul, where Erdogan served as mayor during the 25 years his Justice and Development Party and its Islamist predecessor governed the city.
A partial recount — mostly of ballot papers that were previously deemed invalid — is taking place in several Istanbul districts. Erdogan's party now is demanding a review of all ballots.
"The citizens are saying, 'Protect our rights. We are seeing that organized crimes have taken place,'" Erdogan told reporters before he left on a trip to Moscow. "As a political party, we have determined that certain organized acts were carried out."
The partial recount narrowed the lead of the opposition candidate in Istanbul. Ekrem Imamoglu originally was ahead by 25,000 votes, and the margin was down to 15,000 votes by Monday, after more than 90% of the invalidated ballots had been recounted.
An opposition alliance that backed Imamoglu has called on Erdogan to concede that his party lost. But the president said, "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 his party would accept the election results confirmed by Turkey's top electoral board.
Ali Ihsan Yavuz, a ruling party deputy chairman, said the alleged irregularities might result from a plot orchestrated by a "strategic mind." Yavuv also floated the possibility that followers of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016, staffed voting sites.
The opposition denounced his claim as a ploy that could lead to the election being declared invalid and Istanbul voting for mayor again.
"This is called being a spoilsport. This is being a bad loser," said Faik Oztrak, a deputy chairman of the main opposition party.
Meanwhile, the opposition candidate in Ankara, Mansur Yavas, took office as mayor Monday after receiving a document certifying his election.
"May it be Istanbul's turn next," Yavas said.