Ekrem Imamoglu: who is Istanbul’s new mayor?

The bespectacled 48-year old gained respect for hard work and being approachable when district mayor in the country’s second city

Newly elected Mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) addresses his supporters outside the City Hall in Istanbul, Turkey, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
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Ekrem Imamoglu emerged as the dark horse to win the race to be mayor of Turkey’s largest city.

A relative unknown in the country’s political landscape before the election, the bespectacled 48-year-old emerged from Istanbul’s middle-class neighbourhood of Beylikduzu. Having served as district mayor from 2014 he has gone on to defeat a former prime minister.

However, his mild-mannered connection with voters, whether during his many strolls around the city’s streets and markets or via social media, seems to have won over the electorate, even pious voters who would normally not opt for his secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Supporters of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) gather outside the City Hall building in Istanbul, Turkey, April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
Supporters of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) gather outside the City Hall building in Istanbul, Turkey, April 17, 2019. Reuters

In a move that raised eyebrows among some, the father-of-three set aside time during the campaign for Friday prayers and following the terror attacks in New Zealand he posted a video of himself reading a passage from the Quran at Eyupsultan mosque.
His mother, who wears a headscarf, was photographed with him during the campaign, as was his uncovered wife Dilek, who he married in 1995.

His measured response to the turmoil following the election count also won him admirers and was seen as a tonic to the usual fiery tone of Turkish politics.

Mr Imamoglu was born in the small Black Sea town of Akcaabat and attended school in nearby Trabzon before heading to Istanbul University to study business. On graduating, he joined his family’s construction business.

His Black Sea roots were seen as an advantage in Istanbul, where many residents have family ties to the region.

In 2008, he joined the CHP and was elected to led the party’s youth wing the following year. He progressed to head the local party before standing for Beylikduzu, where he overcame the Justice and Development Party (AKP) incumbent and gained a reputation as a hard-working and personable mayor.

His victory in Beylikduzu stood him in good stead when the CHP and its Iyi Party allies came to select a candidate for Istanbul, overtaking more seasoned politicians such as former MP Muharrem Ince, who stood in the presidential poll last year, to secure the nomination.

Success in Istanbul has seen some draw comparisons with another Black Sea native who became Istanbul mayor in his 40s – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. While such an observation may be overreaching, Mr Imamoglu’s triumph is a breath of fresh air for the CHP, which has a leadership that has gained a reputation for morbidity after decades of failure at the ballot box.