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Who is Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor who could challenge 3-time Turkish President Erdogan? – World News


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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.

Istanbul’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, held the city, defeating the ruling AK Party candidate and former Environment and Urbanisation Minister Murat Kurum with just more than 51 percent of the vote. Erdogan, 70, was born and raised in Istanbul and served as its mayor in the 1990s, so the defeat was seen as a personal blow.

In the mid-90s, Erdogan and Imamoglu first crossed paths at a meatball restaurant run by a young Imamoglu. Years later, they are both rivals on the national stage. 53-year-old Imamoglu is a potential future president in the view of many analysts.

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Who is Ekrem Imamoglu?

Imamoglu was elected mayor of Istanbul – Turkey’s economic hub and largest city with 16 million people – in 2019, ending 25 years of rule by the AK Party and its conservative predecessors.

Imamoglu’s career mirrors Erdogan’s. Aside from having led the country’s biggest city, both, Imamoglu and Erdogan, 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 is now a potential future president and might put an end to the three-time reign of Erdogan.

He studied business administration at Istanbul University, graduating in 1994, the year Erdogan became mayor, before going into his family’s construction business.

While both leaders 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 per cent support in Turkey and appeal to more conservative voters.

He proved that in 2019, delivering Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) its biggest defeat in two decades and beating its candidate not once but twice. A court annulled his March victory that year only for him to win by a larger margin in a re-run election in June.

Erdogan bounced back to win re-election as president last year despite widespread economic strains, defying many polls. But Imamoglu has now struck a new blow for the opposition.

“This is more than a mayoral election, it is consigning a mentality to history,” Imamoglu said during campaigning. “If it is consigned to history, democracy will revive…and law and justice will recover.”
Erdogan’s critics say Turkey’s judiciary, civil rights and press freedoms have been eroded under his watch, charges the government denies.

Imamoglu was seen as a strong potential challenger against Erdogan in the 2023 presidential race as well, but he did not run, and Erdogan won against CHP rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, winning 52 percent of the vote. The next presidential election will be held in 2028.

Imamoglu’s career impeded by legal cases

In 2022, Imamoglu was sentenced to two years and seven months in prison and banned from politics on charges of insulting Turkey’s Supreme Election Council. He has appealed the case, but the appeals court has yet to rule.

The charges stem from Imamoglu’s first mayoral win. The AK Party complained of “irregularities”, which forced a rerun of the election. Imamoglu, who won a second time, described the cancellation of the first round as “foolishness”.

The mayor denied insulting electoral council members with the comment, saying he was responding to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who called Imamoglu “a fool” and accused him of criticising Turkey.

Imamoglu’s conviction echoed the experience of Erdogan, who was briefly jailed in 1999 for reciting a poem that a court ruled was an incitement to religious hatred.

Last year, another court opened a case against Imamoglu on a charge of tender rigging that carries a sentence of three to seven years. Erdogan’s critics see the cases as an attempt to hinder Imamoglu politically. Erdogan and his AKP deny this.

Despite what he describes as obstacles from Ankara, Imamoglu said his administration has delivered services and development in Istanbul, a city of 16 million that drives Turkey’s economy.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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