Imamoglu, the Istanbul mayor who has emerged as Erdogan’s main challenger

Newly re-elected Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has emerged as the main challenger to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s reign. But in some ways, he is following in the footsteps of the Turkish leader who ran the city in the 1990s.

Aside from having led the country’s biggest city, both have family roots in the eastern Black Sea region and both their political careers have been impeded by Turkey’s courts. In their youth, both were keen footballers too.

After clinching a resounding victory and retaining his post in Sunday’s mayoral elections, Imamoglu, 53, is now a potential future president in the view of many analysts.

Voters sent a message directly to Erdogan, Imamoglu said after the election. “Those who do not understand the nation’s message will eventually lose”.

But while they share a strong ability to appeal to voters, they diverge when it comes to politics. Imamoglu, an affable former businessman, himself has said: “our ideas are largely opposite”.

Erdogan entered politics with an Islamist party and has reshaped the secular state with his pious vision since taking the reins in 2002. In contrast, Imamoglu is from the staunchly secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), joining in 2008 and becoming its mayor in Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district 10 years ago.

Imamoglu’s success is due to his ability to break through the social democratic CHP’s ceiling of some 25% support in Turkey and appeal to more conservative voters.


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