Ekrem Imamoglu, a 48-year-old politician born in the Black Sea province of Trabzon in 1970, was unknown to most Turkish people while serving as mayor of the Beylikdüzü district of Istanbul, but since the Mar. 31 mayoral election he has become the rising star of Turkish politics.

His victory was declared by Istanbul's electoral commission Wednesday, some 17 days after the election.

His popularity was further boosted amid widespread concerns among his supporters that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist ally Nationalist Action Party (MHP) were trying to steal his victory.

The Republican People's Party (CHP) victory ends 25 years of Islamist rule in Istanbul which began with now-president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 1994.

Not only is it a success for the CHP but it has changed the general feeling in the country that "the AKP is unbeatable."

The mayoral post in Istanbul, which commands a budget of nearly USD 6 billion, used to be a major source of finance for AKP activities and being elected there carried Erdogan to the presidency, proving the Turkish political adage: "Winning Istanbul means winning Turkey."

Despite being the candidate of the social democrat CHP, which is often accused of being too distanced from the conservative Muslim sections of the Turkish public, Islamoglu has a conservative family background, goes to mosque on Fridays and reads the Quran.

His soft rhetoric drew in even his most radical critics during the election campaign as Imamoglu won sympathy around the county.

"By not giving him the mayorship for days, by stealing his victory, they turned a nationalist like me into a CHP supporter. With his politics, Erdogan created a strong rival for himself. Mark my words: in the presidential election this Imamoglu will beat Erdogan," a young nationalist said earlier this week in a televised street interview in Ankara.

Many Turks think similarly but, responding to questions about his future career plans, Imamoglu said that his first target was to serve Istanbul as a successful mayor.

As mayor of an Istanbul district, Imamoglu beat a former minister, prime minister and parliament speaker, Binali Yildirim, who launched his campaign with huge support from the media and government resources.

Imamoglu, whose name literally means "son of an Imam," was born and raised, like Erdogan, in a conservative family in the Black Sea province of Trabzon.

He shares a love for football with Erdogan. With such a background he is not a hardline "Kemalist," but as a member of CHP, he also wins the hearts of secular Turks, which may be an advantage compared to Erdogan.

Imamoglu studied business at Istanbul University, one of the country's top centers of learning, before joining his family's construction business, and earned a Masters Degree.

This gives him an educational edge over Erdogan, whose university diploma is debated. EFE-EPA