Istanbul’s Mayoral Election: situational brief

  • Ekrem İmamoğlu has risen to prominence as the Mayor of Istanbul since 2019, with a background in business administration and human resource management from Istanbul University.
  • Despite facing legal challenges, including a conviction for “insulting electoral officials” that has not resulted in a political ban pending appeal, İmamoğlu’s popularity and leadership in Istanbul were reinforced by a wide-margin victory in the 2024 mayoral election.
  • İmamoğlu’s appeal across various voter demographics and his handling of Istanbul’s challenges has led to some considering him a potential future presidential candidate.
  • Istanbul has always been a crucial political battleground in Turkey, and Erdoğan’s own political career began with his tenure as the city’s mayor in the 1990s. 

Mayoral elections in Istanbul

The recent mayoral elections in Istanbul, held as part of Turkey’s broader local elections on 31 March 2024, concluded with the re-election of incumbent Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu from the Republican People’s Party (CHP). İmamoğlu secured 51.14% of the votes, defeating his main rival, Murat Kurum of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), who garnered 39.59%.

Both candidates focused their campaigns on critical infrastructure issues, notably the reinforcement of buildings against earthquakes and addressing the chronic traffic congestion in Istanbul. The elections were marred by an incident where gunmen attacked a campaign event in the Küçükçekmece district for AKP mayoral candidate Aziz Yeniay, leading to critical injuries and several arrests.

Historically, Istanbul has been a key political battleground in Turkey, and Erdoğan’s own political ascent began with his tenure as the city’s mayor in the 1990s. The loss of Istanbul, therefore, not only undermines the ruling AKP’s grip on power but also strikes a symbolic blow to Erdoğan’s political narrative, which has long-drawn strength from his association with the city’s governance.

Erdoğan’s acknowledgment of the defeat and his statement about the result marking “not an end for us but rather a turning point” suggest a moment of introspection and potential recalibration for him and his party​​. This election could compel Erdoğan to reassess his strategies and approach, especially given the broader context of the AKP’s diminishing control.

The strategic voting behavior of pro-Kurdish citizens in Istanbul, who appeared to support İmamoğlu over their party’s candidate, and the significant losses for the AKP in western Turkey and the Anatolian highlands indicate shifting political dynamics. The AKP’s loss in conservative-dominated cities was attributed to voter dissatisfaction with inflation and declining salaries. The New Welfare Party (YRP) capitalised on this discontent, gaining traction by criticising the government’s economic policies and advocating for stronger social welfare measures.

These election results, particularly Imamolu’s victory in Istanbul, solidify the opposition’s standing in Turkish politics. They also potentially position İmamoğlu as a key figure for future national elections, given the symbolic and strategic importance of Istanbul in Turkish politics.

Ekrem İmamoğlu

Ekrem İmamoğlu, born in June 1970 in Akçaabat, near Trabzon, Turkey, has risen to prominence in Turkish politics as the Mayor of Istanbul since 2019. His background is diverse, encompassing business administration and human resource management, which he studied at Istanbul University after moving to Istanbul with his family in 1987. Before entering politics, İmamoğlu was involved in his family’s construction business and served on the board of the sports club Trabzonspor.

İmamoğlu’s political journey began within the youth wing of the Motherland Party (ANAP) due to his father’s affiliation, but he later joined the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2008, rising quickly through its ranks. His political acumen became evident when he won the mayorship of the Istanbul district of Beylikdüzü in 2014, a position he held until 2019.

İmamoğlu’s leadership style and ability to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters has led many to consider him a potential future president. His approach to governance, focusing on inclusivity and practical solutions to Istanbul’s challenges, along with his ability to navigate the complex landscape of Turkish politics, positions him as a notable figure on the national stage. His re-election in the 2024 mayoral election with a wide margin underscores his continued popularity and effectiveness as a leader.

İmamoğlu’s story resonates with many due to his humble beginnings, his rise through the ranks of Turkish politics, and his vision for Istanbul and Turkey. İmamoğlu’s trajectory suggests he could play a significant role in Turkey’s future political landscape, potentially even at the highest levels.