Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart at the Kremlin on April 8, 2019. (Cem Oksuz/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Reuters)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party on Tuesday called for new elections in Istanbul, after unofficial results from the March 31 vote showed the party had lost the critical mayoral seat to an opposition challenger.  

 Ali Ihsan Yavuz, a deputy chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said a new election was necessary because last month’s had been marred by “organized irregularities.” His comments followed the national election board’s rejection of an AKP request for a full recount of the vote in Istanbul. The board approved a limited recount.  

 The party’s extraordinary efforts to retain the mayor’s seat immediately drew accusations from critics that it was attempting to subvert the democratic processes. It also underscored the critical importance of Istanbul to Erdogan and his political allies, as Turkey’s largest city and its financial capital.  

 Erdogan rose to political prominence as the city’s mayor, beginning in 1994. Since then, Istanbul has served as a wellspring of the AKP’s powerful financial and political networks and a source of the party’s prestige. Its loss of Istanbul in the recent local elections came as the AKP also suffered rare defeats in several large cities, including Ankara, the capital. Those losses eclipsed the AKP’s success in attracting the most votes of any party in the elections.  

Erdogan had treated the contest — for mayors and local council seats — as a matter of national urgency and campaigned for his party’s candidates across Turkey.   

On the night of the vote, Erdogan appeared to concede that his party had lost in Istanbul, as results showed Ekrem Imamoglu, a candidate from the opposition Republican People’s party, or CHP, had defeated Binali Yildirim, the AKP candidate and a former prime minister, by more than 25,000 votes.    

 But on Monday, Erdogan called the vote “unlawful” and said Imamoglu’s margin of victory, which had narrowed to less than 15,000 votes after the limited recount, was too small given Istanbul’s size. The election board has not released final, official tallies.     

Imamoglu said Tuesday that the AKP was acting like a “poor sport” after an election that had been strictly monitored by all the parties involved.

“An election has come and passed,” he said. “We will not be cheated, brother.”