At Stake in the Istanbul Mayoral Race: Turkey’s Political Future

The contest to run city hall in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and economic dynamo, is in many ways between one man who is on the ballot and another who is not.

The first is the incumbent, Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, a rising star in the political opposition who won in a surprise victory in 2019 and is widely seen as a potential contender for the presidency.

The second is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who served as Istanbul’s mayor decades ago and has wanted to return his hometown to the control of his governing Justice and Development Party since Mr. Imamoglu’s win.

The outcome will be decided by municipal elections on Sunday that will in many ways shape Turkey’s political future.

A win for Mr. Erdogan’s party would allow it to reclaim the political and financial clout of running Turkey’s largest city, further empowering a leader whom critics accuse of leading the country toward autocracy. A win for the incumbent mayor, however, could reinvigorate the anti-Erdogan opposition and propel Mr. Imamoglu toward the next presidential election, expected in 2028, when he could face off against Mr. Erdogan.

“This election will determine the nature of the political race in Turkey for the years to come,” said Sinan Ulgen, the director of Edam, an Istanbul-based research organization.

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