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The ambitious, troubled Istanbul mayor taking on Erdogan

Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu vowed to fight for a democratic revolution after initially being stripped of his victory over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ally in a 2019 election that again threatens to prematurely end his political career.

The smooth-talking opposition figure’s whopping win in a re-run vote three months later turned him into one of the rising stars threatening to break Erdogan’s two-decade domination of Turkish politics.

But an Istanbul criminal court ruled Wednesday that Imamoglu’s offhand remark to reporters that the city’s election officials were “idiots” was defamatory and sentenced him to nearly three years in jail.

It also barred him from politics for the duration of the sentence.

Imamoglu’s has appealed, meaning that he will continue serving as mayor while putting his fate in the hands of judges whose impartially he questions all the time.

The case highlights Imamoglu’s struggles since the heady days when he grabbed global attention by showing that Erdogan — who prides himself on never losing an election — was not invincible.

The 68-year-old Turkish leader launched his own political career as a fiery mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s. 

Imamoglu may have been thinking of doing the same when he got Turkey’s fractured opposition parties to rally around his mayoral candidacy three years ago.

“What we are doing now is a fight for democracy,” Imamoglu told AFP in an interview conducted between the two rounds of voting.

“It will of course be a revolution once we carry it to its conclusion.”

– Protest wave –

Imamoglu’s rise from local Istanbul district leader to mayor came on an anti-Erdogan wave that allowed opposition parties to grab power in Turkey’s most important cities — including the capital Ankara.

Some voters were rebelling against the sweeping purges that followed a failed military putsch in 2016.

Others were disenchanted by an economic crisis that erupted with a breakdown in Turkish-US relations in 2018.

A new breed of leaders from the staunchly secular CHP party such as Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas in Ankara provided a clear alternative to Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted AKP.

But Imamoglu and Yavas have taken sharply different courses since their joint victories in 2019.

Yavas now ranks as the most likely potential candidate to beat Erdogan in presidential polls due by June 2023.

Analysts believe the secret to Yavas’s success lies in his decision to steer well clear of national politics and to focus on fixing Ankara’s problems.

The Istanbul mayor crafts his media image and runs viral social media campaigns that both raise his profile and — based on Twitter responses — grate on many voters’ nerves.

State media have turned him into a hate figure and polls show him having a far tougher time against Erdogan in a likely second round runoff than most other opposition leaders.

His troubles are compounded by Erdogan taking credit for many of the grand projects that have made…

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