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Can Istanbul's mayor forge tourism as a tool for democracy?

Tourism is providing a test case of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu’s advocacy of “local participatory democracy," prompting a struggle with the government in Ankara over prominent landmarks in his city.
Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu makes a speech as pro-Palestinian demonstrators take part in a rally to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed Middle East peace plan, in Istanbul, Turkey, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer - RC20XE91NUJ8

“Local participatory democracy” is a favorite catchphrase of Ekrem Imamoglu, mayor of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. It is also the approach he has adopted for rethinking and revamping the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB), one of the biggest public administrations in Turkey.

Imamoglu, elected last year and a member of the opposition Republican People’s Party, has set his sights on shaking up top-down governance and lack of transparency by getting experts and the general public more involved in decision-making processes. In a nutshell, what he seeks is a strategy for the future “based on common sense.” One obstacle Imamoglu faces is how to overcome government resistance to implementing such a policy, for which the tourism sector has become a test case.

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