ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Wednesday adjourned until September a case against Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, an opposition figure who opinion polls suggest would be a strong possible challenger to President Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming national elections.
A verdict had been widely expected on Wednesday in the case, which could lead to a political ban for Imamoglu if he were found guilty and if any appeal then failed.
The judge set the next hearing for Sept. 21.
Political analysts and CHP lawmakers see the case as the latest effort by Erdogan and his ruling AK Party to muzzle the opposition ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for no later than June 2023.
Several weeks ago a sentence was finalised against the Istanbul head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Canan Kaftancioglu, a key architect of Imamoglu’s mayoral victory in 2019.
Critics say Turkish courts bend to Erdogan’s will after his two decades of increasingly authoritarian rule. The government denies these claims and says the judiciary is independent.
Imamoglu, who is from the CHP, is charged with insulting public officials in a speech he made about a repeat of the 2019 mayoral election. Imamoglu narrowly won that election over his AK Party rival and, after those results were annulled, won the rerun of the vote by a comfortable margin.
The state prosecutor wants Imamoglu jailed for four years and one month, state-owned Anadolu Agency had reported.
An informal opposition coalition has not yet selected its presidential candidate.
Most analysts expect CHP Chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu to win the nomination but Imamoglu is another possible contender. Some polls show him comfortably winning a run-off against Erdogan, whose popularity has waned amid a series of economic crises.
Imamoglu’s mayoral victory marked the first time Erdogan’s AK Party and its Islamist predecessor had lost in Turkey’s largest city in 25 years.
(Reporting by Umit Bektas, Ali Kucukgocmen, Murad Sezer and Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)