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The Rerun of Istanbul Mayoral Elections and Examples in Europe

On 6 May 2018, Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) cancelled the mayoral elections of Istanbul which was held on 31 March 2019 and decided for a rerun, scheduled for 23 June 2019. The western media outlets were quick to criticize the Electoral Council’s judgment as a “step backward in democracy,” though similar examples have happened in several elections in Europe, and not in a distant past.

A race too close to call

Around 8.5 million people cast their votes to choose the mayor of Istanbul on 31 March 2019. When the counting process came to end at night, it appeared that the candidate of “the Nation Alliance,” Ekrem Imamoglu was ahead of Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister and speaker of Turkish Parliament and “the People’s Alliance,” just with 21,462 votes.[1]

The constituents of the People’s Alliance, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the National Movement Party (MHP) requested the recount of the invalid ballots. Even only with the recount of the invalid ballots, the already narrow margin between Imamoglu and Yildirim decreased to 13,729 votes. Therefore, AK Party proceeded with the request of a total recount of votes in Istanbul. However, the provincial election board in Istanbul refused this request although there were strong indications that this could overturn the results.

Strong irregularities during the election process

It has been determined that in the 22 ballot boxes whose presidents and civil servant members were appointed illegally, and that the vote count sheets “were missing and were submitted into the Supreme Electoral Council’s system as empty.”

Additionally, despite the clear requirement of law[2] that the president and members of a ballot box committee should be public servants, more than 19,000 among 62,000 ballot box committee officers were not public servants. Consequently, the Supreme Election Board recognized the legitimacy of the AK Party’s and the MHP’s appeal, annulled the Istanbul mayoral elections and rescheduled it for 23 June 2019.

Repeated or Ignored Elections in Europe

Within the last three decades, 6 elections were either annulled or their results were not even recognized in Europe.

Danish referendum

On 2 June 1992, Denmark refused the Maastricht Treaty, the treaty which founded the European Union (EU), in a referendum with the rate of 51.7%. A second referendum on the exact same matter was held on 18 May 1993 and this time, Danish people approved the Maastricht Treaty with the rate of 56.7%.

Ireland was made to vote the Nice Treaty again

The Treaty of Nice was signed by the EU member countries on 26 February 2001 and amended the EU's founding treaties, namely the Maastricht Treaty and the Treaty of Rome.  In all EU member states, the Treaty of Nice was ratified by the parliaments with the exception of Ireland. The Irish Supreme Court ruled in its judgment Crotty v. An Taoiseach that any amendments resulting in a transfer of Ireland’s sovereignty, in this case to the EU, required a constitutional amendment[3] and the Irish constitution could be amended through a referendum.

On a referendum held in June 2001, Irish people refused the amendment with a rate of 53.87%. The Irish government, with several changes in the content of the amendment, called for a second referendum a year later. This time, the amendments were approved by 60%.

France ignored the result of the referendum

In 2005, France held a referendum to decide whether to ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union or not. The French people refused the proposal with 55% of voters rejecting the treaty on a turnout of 69%.

In 2007, the EU member states repackaged the constitution into what became the Treaty of Lisbon and the French parliament adopted the constitution. Although it was not called a “constitution,” the Treaty of Lisbon was regarded “more or less the same as the one which the French had fairly resoundingly rejected.”[4]

Therefore, the apparent will of the French people was ignored with the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon by the French government. Back then this decision was hailed across Europe as “France’s return to the heart of Europe,” as expressed by then-French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

The Netherlands also ignored the referendum

Just a few days after France held the referendum on the approval of the EU constitution on 29 May 2005, the Netherlands also refused the proposal in a referendum with a majority of 61.6%. Just like France, the Netherlands also ratified the Treaty of Lisbon, a modified version of the idea of EU constitution, a few years later with an act of parliament,[5] ignoring the democratic mandate of the people.

Irish electorate ignored, once again

In 2008, Irish people voted the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum and rejected it. But the Irish government pushed ahead with its plan and held a second referendum on the same subject in 2009, ignoring the democratic mandate of the Irish people to ultimately get the result they desired.

Greece ignored referendum for EU bailout

Greek people voted on a bailout program in a referendum on 25 June 2015 and the result was “no” with a majority of 61.31% of the participants. But the Greek government ignored this outcome and went on to formally ask for a three-year bailout from the eurozone’s rescue fund just three days after the referendum. European finance leaders scheduled a crisis summit on 12 July 2015 to consider Athens’ request.

This move was considered both “a violation of democracy” by certain European leaders such as former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti[6] and a "drastic turnaround" for Prime Minister Tsipras. In the end, the total amount of loans requested by Greece amounted to 53.5 billion euros (59 billion US dollars).

The Netherlands, again

In 2016, Dutch voters rejected an EU plan to bring Ukraine into the bloc’s sphere of influence. But only two weeks later, the EU pushed through the Ukraine deal which would provide Ukrainians with visa-free travel to Europe. Dutch electorate's will was ignored.


[1]https://secim.haberler.com/2019/yerel-secimler/istanbul-secim-sonuclari/

[2]http://www.ysk.gov.tr/doc/genelge/dosya/77637/2018CBMV-Genelge135.pdf

[3] Paragraph 6 of the judgment

[4]https://www.thelocal.fr/20160628/brexit-rethink-a-look-at-frances-2005-eu-referendum

[5]https://www.euractiv.com/section/uk-europe/news/netherlands-ratifies-eu-s-troubled-lisbon-treaty/

[6]https://www.euractiv.com/section/euro-finance/news/monti-ignoring-the-greek-referendum-was-a-violation-of-democracy/