Ekrem İmamoğlu, mayor of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), spoke on Friday about recent sabotage incidents against the İBB’s metro and metrobus services and the court cases targeting İBB employees, labeling them as “previews” of what is expected as the 2024 local elections approach and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) aims to retake the city.
İmamoğlu highlighted the rising number of sabotage incidents against İBB-run public services, such as objects being placed on metro escalators to put them out of service and systems disrupted along transport routes. A recent video shared by Murat Ongun, an advisor to the mayor, showed a vehicle intentionally knocking over plastic barriers that separate a temporary metrobus lane. Ongun called the act “nothing short of attempted murder.”
Following sabotage targeting İBB-run transport services, pro-government media outlets report on the disruptions to portray the CHP-run municipality negatively.
İmamoğlu also addressed the court case of Yavuz Saltık, head of the İBB’s Social Services Department, who was accused of aiding a terrorist organization by distributing aid cards to members of a charity. Saltık was acquitted in court on Friday.
“I haven’t been able to sleep for a week,” İmamoğlu said, indicating that he was worried the AKP might have used the case against the current İBB administration.
İmamoğlu’s political future hangs in the balance, with the Supreme Court of Appeals set to rule on multiple cases that could bring political bans, affecting his ability to run in the 2024 local elections.
A case awaiting a final verdict is İmamoğlu’s two-and-a-half year prison sentence, initially handed down by a local court for calling the members of Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) “fools.” The case is currently before the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. The decision from the appeals process, expected to eventually reach the top appeals court, could result in a political ban for İmamoğlu, barring him from participating in the 2024 local elections and possibly ending any aspirations for leadership within the CHP.
In addition to this high-profile case, İmamoğlu faces another legal challenge related to his term as mayor of İstanbul’s Beylikdüzü district, before the 2019 local elections. Initiated upon the complaint of the Ministry of the Interior, İmamoğlu is accused of “rigging a public tender.” The first hearing in this case, which could lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years and an additional political ban, took place on June 15. The trial has been adjourned until Nov. 30.
İmamoğlu was acquitted earlier this month of charges of insulting a district mayor from the ruling AKP. The case had sought a sentence of up to two years and a political ban for the mayor. The court ruled that İmamoğlu’s comments were political criticism rather than insult.
İmamoğlu ended the years-long AKP rule in İstanbul when he defeated the AKP’s mayoral candidate twice in the local elections of 2019. He won the rerun election by a larger margin than the first, which had been canceled due to supposed irregularities.
The İstanbul mayor was tried for a speech in which he said those who annulled the initial 2019 vote were “fools.” However, İmamoğlu said at the first hearing in January 2022 that his remarks, which were in response to a question from a reporter, were not aimed at the YSK officials but at then-interior minister Süleyman Soylu, who in an earlier statement used the same word against him.