Istanbul's mayor and member of the main opposition Republican's People Party, Ekrem İmamoğlu, joined the world's leading live streaming platform Twitch on May 19, much to the surprise of Turkish users:
— İstanbul Gönüllüleri (@gonulluist) May 19, 2021
Suddenly on twitch
Twitch is a live streaming platform, used mainly—but not only—by gamers. Many lifestyle “casters” have been using the platform to broadcast their game or activity by sharing their screens with fans and subscribers. One well-known U.S. politician who uses Twitch is social media-savvy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), but so is Bernie Sanders. In Turkey, the mayor of the capital Ankara participated in a discussion on a live stream held on Twitch but İmamoğlu went further by opening his own account in order to interact with a large base.
Users responded to İmamoğlu's Bits, first in disbelief that it was the mayor himself. Bits are virtual goods that users on the platform can buy that give the power to encourage and show support for streamers, according to the platform's FAQ. “Cheering with Bits shows support for streamers and celebrates the moments you love with the community, all right in chat. A Cheer is a chat message that uses Bits. Bits emotes can be used one by one, all at once, or anywhere in between. Using many at once shows more support and creates cooler animated emotes.”
İmamoğlu's first appearance on the platform coincided with a national holiday celebrating youth and sports, with the mayor joining a live Q&A session from Turkish internet phenomenons.
Twitch kanalımda gençlerin zor sorularını yanıtlıyorum; https://t.co/cJixvWox1H
— Ekrem İmamoğlu (@ekrem_imamoglu) May 19, 2021
I am responding to tough questions from our youth on my Twitch channel
“I see this as an opportunity,” said İmamoğlu in his opening remarks, adding, “No matter how hard the questions may be, ask away.”
İmamoğlu responded to questions ranging from outreach to youth, assistance to the community of musicians who are suffering great financial losses during the pandemic, to dealing with hate and harassment and serving 16 million residents of Istanbul, protecting the environment, pollution, judiciary, youth unemployment and many other issues.
Ekrem İmamoğlu was elected mayor of Istanbul in March 2019. Previously, the 50-year-old politician was mayor of Istanbul's Beylikduzu district, but his name was barely known before he ran in the March 2019 election. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) called for the annulment of results on the grounds of election fraud. In June 2019, however, İmamoğlu won the election rerun by a larger margin, ending the 25-year rule of the Justice and Development Party in Istanbul.
The Istanbul mayor's popularity among young people is not surprising. According to some local media, it was Generation Z votes that significantly boosted the margin of votes in the election rerun, bringing in İmamoğlu's second victory. This generation born between 1995 and 2010s, has known no other Turkey than the one ruled by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party. Increasingly, President Erdogan's efforts to shape the young generation in Turkey have been failing. The most recent protests that have rocked Istanbul's prestigious university, Bogazici, attest to this. Before that, however—ever since the Gezi protests in 2013—the popularity of the ruling party has decreased, especially among the youth. According to a study conducted by the Gezici Arastirma Merkezi Institute in 2020, 76.4 per cent of respondents said they regarded the rule of law and democracy—both of which have been scrutinized under the current leadership—as top priorities for Turkey.
Last year, hundreds of students joined a live stream with President Erdogan and used the comments section to criticize Erdogan and tell him that he would not get their votes in the upcoming presidential election scheduled for 2023. It is estimated that some six million new voters will be casting their ballots in the next election.
Most recently, in an interview with Fox TV Turkey, İmamoğlu said he did not have plans to run for the upcoming presidential election and instead, aims to be the most successful mayor of Istanbul. Regardless of his candidacy, he appears to be winning over a generation that may set a new course for Turkey.