Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu gathered journalists on a sunny Sunday noon for a briefing on his recent tour of Europe. As the newly elected mayor of Istanbul, İmamoğlu visited Paris, Copenhagen, Berlin and London. He was greeted with much attention wherever he went. 

The interest in Imamoğlu in Europe is strong — whether realistic or not, he is seen as a potential presidential candidate against Erdoğan. The European press does not usually ask him about Istanbul, but instead about his opinion on the European Union and the place of Turkey in the union. Apparently he is being perceived as a leader who would possibly be able to put Turkey on the right track. Whether he has this potential is yet to be seen. 

However, he is shifting into higher gear, it seems: the press meeting last Sunday was an indicator of that. During the meeting, which lasted around three hours, Imamoğlu said that state banks had stopped making routine loans to the city after his election. He stated that he visited Europe in part to search for alternative finance resources, and announced that he secured a 86-million-euro loan deal from the French Development Agency, and a 110-million-euro loan from Deutsche Bank.

The construction of two new subway lines will be completed with these financial resources, he said. Imamoğlu underlined that construction had been in progress on eight lines under the former mayor. However, construction had stalled on these projects for the last two years due to lack of funds.

After the local elections Erdoğan openly said, “Even if they win, they will not be able to govern, we know how much debt each municipality is in.” He signaled that life for the newly elected opposition mayors will be harder than ever. 

Imamoğlu ran his election campaign not on a narrative of fighting, but a narrative of peace. He promised to be inclusive, and he was careful not to target Erdoğan in his speeches. He aimed to grab AKP votes and he achieved this. He was able to reach AKP constituents by not demonizing Erdoğan and by saying that he stay out of Ankara politics and focus on Istanbul. So far, he’s tried to hold true to that: he has been careful not to comment about everyday politics, and stay above the brawl. However, it is not easy to stay as clean as a whistle once in power. Local politics in Turkey still drags one into the obscure dealings of Ankara. At the end of the day, now Turkey is governed by a very centralized system, and everything is decided at Beştepe Palace, where Erdoğan resides. 

İmamoğlu concluded his press briefing on Sunday by saying that he believed this was still an adaptation phase, that it was hard for AKP, the party in power for 25 years, to get used to opposition in Istanbul. He said he believed this phase will end and they will find a way to work with Ankara in peace. One can assume that, as a good politician, he hid his real thoughts. But by starting to be vocal about the difficulties he is facing, he signaled that he is ready to fight.