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The Man Who Defied Erdogan to Take Istanbul Says It’ll Be ‘Great’
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The Man Who Defied Erdogan to Take Istanbul Says It’ll Be ‘Great’
(Bloomberg) -- Ekrem Imamoglu, the man who defied Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take Istanbul, relied on an upbeat message in stark contrast to the type of rhetoric usually deployed by the president. That may be why he won more votes than Erdogan ever did in Turkey’s biggest city.As a former businessman and district mayor, Imamoglu was unused to the limelight before his candidacy in Istanbul’s election. After he was nominated to run as mayor, the 49-year-old waged an inclusive campaign and avoided criticizing Erdogan directly. After his victory in Sunday’s rerun, Imamoglu said he was ready to work with the president to tackle Istanbul’s problems, including transport gridlock and issues related to Syrian refugees.Building on his reputation as someone willing to work across political lines, Imamoglu ran on a message of unity: “Everything is going to be great,” was his campaign slogan. In a deeply divided Turkey, that fresh approach resonated with a wide range of voters from different political backgrounds across the country’s wealthiest metropolitan region. Perhaps inevitably, his victory has fueled speculation of a possible presidential run in 2023.“Given that Turkey’s been exposed to an acute degree of identity politics over the past few years, it was important for a candidate to be able to eliminate these substantial barriers across the political divide,” said Sinan Ulgen, managing partner of Istanbul Economics.Black SeaJust as he is following Erdogan’s political trajectory by becoming Istanbul mayor, like the president, Imamoglu was born in the Black Sea region, in 1970. And like Erdogan, he played soccer in his youth, in his case keeping goal. After graduating from Istanbul University, in 1992 he started working in his family business in construction and contracting. He joined the main opposition Republican People’s Party in 2008 and six years later he was elected mayor in Istanbul’s southwestern district of Beylikduzu.Married with three children, Imamoglu manages to defy the image projected by Erdogan of opposition leaders as elitist left-wing secularists who are out of touch with average Turks. Unlike many opposition figures, Imamoglu doesn’t shy away from attending Friday prayers. His surname literally means “son of imam,” and he hails from a conservative family from the Black Sea province of Trabzon, known for its religious cohesion. Like many children, he was a regular at Koran classes, according to a biography, “My Dear Mayor,” by journalist Sirin Mine Kilic.His father was involved with the center-right Motherland Party, providing Imamoglu with his first acquaintance with politics. The book relates that when Imamoglu told his wife Dilek of his decision to enter politics, she gave her blessing on one condition: that it had to be with the social democratic CHP, Turkey’s main opposition party. He became a CHP member in 2008, at a time when it was at a low point and Erdogan’s AK Party at its strongest, following its 2007 general election victory with 46% of the vote. The CHP took just 20% in that election.Imamoglu’s first acquaintance with Istanbul’s Beylikduzu district, where his star was to shine later, was in 1991, when his family started buying and developing land in the then-barren part of the city. He won the Beylikduzu mayoral elections with 50.8%, a lead of more than 11 percentage points over the AK Party candidate.Economic ConcernsFor all his determined optimism, there is clearly more to Imamoglu’s success than simply his appeal to conservatives and liberals alike. He benefited from a Turkish economy that’s in distress, with a double-dip recession threatening and unemployment stuck around 14%. His vows to end waste in Istanbul resonated with voters. And he also tapped into a sense of injustice after the decision to redo the election, according to Ulgen of Istanbul Economics.Imamoglu’s origins from a conservative background “was certainly an instrumental factor that allowed him to reach across the identity divide,” Ulgen said. Some 88% of voters say they think the economy will deteriorate in the coming months, and this group “tended to vote very heavily for Imamoglu -- and that includes AKP voters.”Regardless of how he got here, analysts are already suggesting that Imamoglu’s positive message and call for more inclusiveness may change the sway of Turkish politics away from the current predominance of anger, accusation and insults.Imamoglu has another quality that contributes to his success, according to the new mayor of Istanbul’s wife, Dilek: his key character trait is patience, the biography cites her as saying. “He is not the type to get angry and take instant decisions,” she adds.To contact the reporters on this story: Cagan Koc in Istanbul at ckoc2@bloomberg.net;Taylan Bilgic in Istanbul at tbilgic2@bloomberg.net;Asli Kandemir in Istanbul at akandemir@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net;Onur Ant at oant@bloomberg.net;Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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