Opposition candidate compares AKP's Istanbul re-run request to show trials

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate in the controversial Istanbul mayoral election issued a strong response to the ruling party’s request to cancel and re-run the vote on Tuesday.

Initial counts put CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu ahead in the March 31 local election, but the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) demanded recounts of ballots across Istanbul before applying to the Supreme Election Council (YSK) to annul the vote.

The AKP has claimed widespread fraud took place on March 31, and officials from the party were photographed carrying three suitcases, reportedly holding evidence of the fraud, to the YSK offices.

 İmamoğlu dismissed the AKP’s claims of fraud during a speech to supporters in Istanbul on Tuesday evening, comparing the images to a previous instance of legal pressure on members of the secularist opposition that was later revealed to be a conspiracy.

“You all remember those who took suitcases to the judiciary before, don’t you? You remember the plot that cost patriots their lives, don’t you?” Turkish news site T24 quoted İmamoğlu as saying.

The CHP candidate referred to a series of trials, including those known as Ergenekon and Balyoz (Sledgehammer), in which secularist military officers, politicians, journalists and activists were charged with plotting to overthrow the AKP government in a coup.

The Balyoz trial began after a suitcase full of documents purported to be evidence against the officers was delivered anonymously to Mehmet Baransu, a journalist then working in Taraf newspaper, which was known for publishing reports linked to those trials.

Baransu has been in jail since 2015 over links to Gülen religious movement, which the AKP government blames for orchestrating the coup attempt in July 2016.

Many of the documents used in that and other trials launched during that period were proven to have been falsified.

Defendants from the trials were eventually released after the Gülen movement came into conflict with the AKP. The prosecutors and judges involved in the trials are widely regarded as members of the movement.

After the initial count of votes, on April 1, İmamoğlu led his AKP rival, Binali Yıldırım, by over 27,000 votes.

The series of appeals for recounts of invalidated votes launched by the AKP reduced his lead to around 13,000 votes.

The AKP submitted an “extraordinary appeal” to annul the elections on Tuesday. If the YSK accepts the appeal, elections will be re-run on June 2.