Imamoglu, the Istanbul mayor who has emerged as Erdogan's essential challenger | EUROtoday

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Newly re-elected Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has emerged as the principle challenger to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s reign. But in some methods, he’s following within the footsteps of the Turkish chief who ran town within the Nineteen Nineties.

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Aside from having led the nation’s greatest metropolis, each have household roots within the jap Black Sea area and each their political careers have been impeded by Turkey’s courts. In their youth, each had been eager footballers too.

After clinching a convincing victory and retaining his put up in Sunday’s mayoral elections, Imamoglu, 53, is now a possible future president within the view of many analysts.

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

But whereas they share a robust means to enchantment to voters, they diverge on the subject of politics. Imamoglu, an affable former businessman, himself has mentioned: “our ideas are largely opposite”.

Erdogan entered politics with an Islamist celebration and has reshaped the secular state together with his pious imaginative and prescient since taking the reins in 2002. In distinction, Imamoglu is from the staunchly secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), becoming a member of in 2008 and changing into its mayor in Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district 10 years in the past.

Imamoglu’s success is because of his means to interrupt via the social democratic CHP’s ceiling of some 25% help in Turkey and enchantment to extra conservative voters.

He proved that in 2019, delivering Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) its greatest defeat in twenty years and beating its candidate not as soon as however twice. A court docket annulled his March victory that yr just for him to win by a bigger margin in a re-run election in June.

Erdogan bounced again to win re-election as president final yr regardless of widespread financial strains, defying many polls.  But Imamoglu has now struck a brand new blow for the opposition.

“This is more than a mayoral election, it is consigning a mentality to history,” Imamoglu mentioned throughout 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 beneath his watch, fees the federal government denies.

Magistrates and meatballs

Imamoglu himself has confronted judicial woes.  After his 2019 win, a decide sentenced him to 2-1/2 years in jail, imposing a political ban for insulting public officers.  The appeals court docket is but to rule on the case.

The conviction echoed the expertise of Erdogan, who was briefly jailed in 1999 for reciting a poem {that a} court docket dominated was an incitement to spiritual hatred.

Last yr, one other court docket opened a case towards Imamoglu on a cost of tender rigging that carries a sentence of three to seven years. Erdogan’s critics see the instances as an try to hinder Imamoglu politically. Erdogan and his AKP deny this.

Despite what he describes as obstacles from Ankara, Imamoglu mentioned his administration has delivered providers and growth in Istanbul, a metropolis of 16 million that drives Turkey’s financial system.

The metropolis is a world away from the Black Sea province of Trabzon the place Imamoglu was born in 1970 and spent what he describes as a contented childhood amid its “lush green nature, rough sea and stone streets”.

He studied at Istanbul University and graduated in enterprise administration in 1994, the yr Erdogan turned mayor, earlier than going into his household’s development enterprise. He is married and has three youngsters.

Sunday’s victory contrasted with 2019. He was backed then by an opposition alliance that collapsed final yr after the final election defeat. He mentioned his help this time got here from “a strong alliance of conscience, established by millions thirsty for democracy and justice.”

Many analysts now forecast additional success for Imamoglu.  “(If) this election is not cancelled by objections in some way, he will become the president in 2028,” Ozer Sencar, head of pollster Metropoll, instructed Reuters earlier than the election.

Rivalry between Imamoglu and Erdogan could warmth up on the nationwide stage in years to return, however the mayor not too long ago recalled the extra mundane setting the place they first crossed paths.

In the mid-Nineteen Nineties after Erdogan turned mayor, he visited the meatball restaurant that the younger Imamoglu was working in Istanbul’s Gungoren district.

“When he was in his first months as mayor I hosted him,” Imamoglu mentioned. “He ate meatballs in my restaurant. I didn’t take his money. He won’t pay that bill as long as he lives.”