A probe launched in the wake of local government elections, which saw the ruling party lose the Istanbul mayoral race, has according to the state-run Anadolu news agency found that scores of election officials have links to a “terror organization.”
Anadolu, citing unnamed security sources, claimed 43 members of the balloting committees were revealed to have links to the Fethullah Gulen Movement – an organization designated as a terrorist group by the Turkish government.
The investigation was launched over allegations of voting irregularities made by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) after its candidate Binali Yildirim lost the Istanbul mayoral election to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in the March 31 local elections.
The defeat was a huge blow for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who began his political career as Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor in 1990s.
Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) is expected to decide about AKP’s extraordinary objection, which is demanding that the result be annulled and the Istanbul elections be held again.
Erdogan told Turkish press on Saturday that he backs a re-run of elections in Istanbul.
According to AA’s news report, 41 out of the 43 officials, who were detected as suspects in the investigation launched over allegations of voting irregularities in Istanbul elections, are found to have made deposits to the Bank Asya.
The Turkish judiciary regards account holders of the bank as members of the movement, which is considered by the government as a terrorist group.
In 2015, President Tayyip Erdogan closed Bank Asya, believing that it was linked to the Gulen movement.
According to the Anadolu’s report, two of the suspects also have used ByLock, a smartphone application considered by Turkish judiciary as evidence of links to the movement.
Once widely available online, ByLock has been considered by the Turkish government as a secret tool of communication among members of the faith-based movement since the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
In the wake of the failed putsch in July 2016, Erdogan quickly pointed a finger at the Gulen group, with whom he had been at odds ever since the corruption probes targeting senior members of his cabinet as well as his own family members broke out in December 2013.
As part of a crackdown against real and alleged members of the Gulen group following the coup attempt, Erdogan’s administration dismissed and detained 33,417 police officers along with 4,463 judges and prosecutors on charges of terrorism.
In 2018, an Istanbul court sentenced police officers who carried out the corruption investigations in 2013 to life imprisonment.
Critics claim that the crackdown on the movement’s members became a witch-hunt while tens of thousands of people lacked due process in politically-motivated trials.
Both Fethullah Gulen, the US-based leader of the group, and his followers strongly deny any link to the coup attempt.