Trump Administration Opts Not to Condemn Turkey Election Annulment

While European politicians have slammed decision to hold new vote after Erdogan's party lost power in Istanbul, State Department only says it 'takes note' of development

President of Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses party members during his party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on May 7, 2019 in Ankara.
Adem ALTAN / AFP

WAHINGTON – The Trump administration issued a statement on Wednesday that failed to condemn Turkey's annulment of election results after Turkish President Erdogan's party lost the Istanbul mayoral race, in contrast to European criticism of the move. The statement said only that the United States "takes note" of the development and did not include any overt criticism of Erdogan or the Turkish authorities, although it did state that "free and fair elections and acceptance of legitimate election results are essential for any democracy."

Last month, Erdogan's Islamist "Justice and Development" party lost its control in Turkey's largest and most important cities, including Istanbul. However, following political pressure from Erdogan and others, the country's court system decided this week to cancel the election results in Istanbul and hold a new election in the summer. 

>> Erdogan made the local elections all about himself. It backfired | Analysis ■ Erdogan’s next front: The White House | Analysis

The Trump administration's response, issued by the State Department, appeared to treat the decision to cancel the Istanbul election results as a legitimate move. "Turkey has a long, proud democratic tradition," the statement said. "We urge Turkish authorities to carry out this election in keeping with its laws," the statement added, while also referencing Turkey's membership in NATO. 

The decision to hold a new election was criticized by Germany's foreign minister and by the French government, while an EU spokesperson demanded that the country's electoral body explain it.

Erdogan's AKP appealed for an election re-run after initial results and a series of recounts showed it had lost control of Istanbul for the first time in 25 years.

It was a shocking loss for Erdogan, who in the 1990s served as the city's mayor and had campaigned hard ahead of the nationwide local vote, his first electoral test since last year's sharp currency crisis tipped the Turkish economy into recession.

Turkey's High Election Board acceded to AKP's demand and scrapped the results on Monday.

Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which in the initial vote on March 31 narrowly won the mayoralty in the country's largest city, called the ruling a "plain dictatorship."

Reuters contributed background to this report.