Istanbul’s ambitious mayor deals a new blow to Erdogan


Imamoglu’s rise from local Istanbul district leader to mayor came in an anti-Erdogan wave that allowed opposition parties to take power in Türkiye’s major cities – including the capital, Ankara.

Some voters rebelled against sweeping purges that followed a failed putsch in 2016. Others were disillusioned by an economic crisis.

A new generation of leaders from the staunchly secular CHP, including Imamoglu in Istanbul and Mansur Yavas in Ankara, offered a clear alternative to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP.

Since Erdogan won a new term in last year’s presidential election, Imamoglu has challenged the leadership of his CHP, calling for change after former leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was defeated.

Imamoglu is now seen as the most likely potential candidate to beat any candidate from Erdogan’s party in the 2028 presidential election.

As Erdogan has shown, running Istanbul has often proved the path to national power.

Aylin Unver Noi, professor at Istanbul’s Halic University, told AFP that the winner in Istanbul, with its population of 16 million people, will be able to move confidently into new elections.

Noi said Imamoglu could challenge for the CHP leadership and from there become its presidential candidate for 2028.

“It is not easy to manage Istanbul,” said Noi.

“We are talking about a city larger than 20 European Union countries. It is both a commercial hub, a financial center and a cultural center. It’s like a country. It is a city with a very large budget. Those who manage to run this city prove themselves and reach a certain place in their political career.”

“Imamoglu is an effective political operator and at this point in time represents one of the very few glimmers of hope for constituents who oppose Erdogan and the AKP,” Anthony Skinner, director of research at geopolitical advisory firm Marlow Global, told AFP.

The Istanbul mayor has crafted a media image and run viral social media campaigns, that both raised his profile and got on the nerves of many voters.

State media, meanwhile, turned him into a hate figure.

His troubles were compounded by Erdogan taking credit for many of the important projects that have modernised Istanbul over recent years.


Imamoglu has never hidden his presidential ambitions.

He studied business administration at Istanbul University and completed a masters degree in management before entering his family’s construction business.

His love of football pushed him to become an administrator with his hometown team in the Black Sea port of Trabzon in northeast Türkiye.

He joined the main opposition party and was elected mayor of the up-and-coming Beylikduzu district on the European side of Istanbul in 2014.

In January 2022, pro-government media were awash with images taken by surveillance cameras of him having dinner with the British ambassador at a fish restaurant.

As Istanbul battled a snowstorm, the images played into the government’s portrayal of the mayor as out-of-touch and Western-backed.

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