Popular Istanbul mayor on trial, could face political ban

ISTANBUL (AP): A Turkish court resumed the trial of Istanbul’s mayor Friday on charges of insulting members of Turkiye’s Supreme Electoral Council, a case critics allege is an attempt to remove a key opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan from the political scene.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party, faces up to four years in prison if found guilty of the charge and could also be barred from holding office. The court in Istanbul might deliver its verdict on Friday.

Imamoglu was elected to lead Turkiye’s largest city in March 2019. His win was a historic blow to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, which had controlled Istanbul for a quarter-century. The party pushed to void the municipal election results in the city of 16 million, alleging irregularities.

The challenge resulted in a repeat of the election a few months later. Imamoglu won again, that time with a comfortable majority.

His trial is based on accusations that he insulted members of the electoral council with a Nov. 4, 2019 statement in which he described canceling legitimate elections as “foolishness.”

The mayor denies insulting members of the council, insisting his words were a response to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu calling him “a fool” and accusing Imamoglu of criticizing Turkiye during a visit to the European Parliament.

Government critics regard the trial as an attempt to prevent the popular mayor from running against Erdogan in presidential and parliamentary elections currently scheduled for June 2023.

If convicted, Imamoglu could lose his post as mayor and be replaced by someone close to Erdogan’s ruling party.

Several mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, who were also elected in 2019, were removed from office over alleged links to Kurdish militants and replaced by state-appointed trustees.

Dozens of HDP lawmakers and thousands of party members were arrested on terror-related accusations as part of a government crackdown on the party.