Tunisia prime minister dismisses energy minister on corruption suspicions

(File/AFP)
Updated 31 August 2018
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Tunisia prime minister dismisses energy minister on corruption suspicions

TUNIS: Tunisia's Prime Minister Youssef Chahed sacked the energy minister, Khaled Kaddour, and four other senior figures linked to that ministry on Friday over corruption accusations, government officials said.
Chahed ordered an investigation and the merger of the ministries of energy and industry, an official source told Reuters. One of the officials denied any wrong doing, but there was no immediate comment from the minister or the others.
Government spokesman Iyad Dahmani said the sacked were accused of allowing a Tunisian investor to explore the Halk Manzel oilfield - one of the country's most important sites - without having to go through a licensing round.
The deal over the oilfield near the coastal city of Monastir also came with unjustified tax privileges, Dahmani said.
Kaddour is the first minister targeted in a crackdown on corruption that Chahed launched last year. So far only mid-level officials have lost their jobs.
One of the other officials dismissed on Friday - Secretary of State for Energy, Hachem Hmidi - told Reuters he denied the accusations.
"My exit from the government helps me to devote myself to the case and prove that I am innocent of these malicious charges," he said.
The other officials named by the official source were the director general of fuel, the head of the national oil company, ETAP, and the ministry's director general of legal affairs.
Corruption was one of main catalysts of the 2011 revolt against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Many Tunisians complain graft remains widespread despite a democratic transition since 2011 with free elections.
Last year, the government confiscated the property and froze bank accounts of about 20 prominent businessmen arrested on suspicion of corruption.
In July, parliament approved a law forcing senior officials to disclose assets - part of a fight against what it calls illicit enrichment.
Tunisia's anti-corruption committee has said graft is still widespread in all business sectors and causes losses worth billions of dollars every year.
Chafik Jaraya, who maintains political contacts in Tunisia and Libya and helped finance the Nidaa Tounes ruling party during the last elections in 2014, was among those arrested last year.
He is in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer has said the charges are politically motivated.


Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

Updated 20 July 2019
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Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

  • Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has downplayed the threat

ANKARA: Following losses in key cities this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now risks losing more voters as former allies stick their head above the parapet and appear to be on the verge of creating new parties.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory under Erdogan.
Rumors have swirled in Ankara for months that Babacan and Davutoglu may establish their own political parties to challenge the Islamic-rooted AKP that has dominated Turkish politics this century.
On July 8, Babacan, who is credited with overseeing Turkey’s economic boom during the AKP’s first decade in power, dealt the first blow when he resigned from the party.
He claimed Turkey needed a “new vision” and cited “deep differences” over policy, hinting a new party — or “new effort” — was “inevitable.”
With double-digit inflation, slower growth and a weakened lira, many hope Babacan will be the answer to Turkey’s economic woes and an alternative to Erdogan.
Ten days after Babacan, Davutoglu gave an interview broadcast live online in which he appeared to suggest he would be ready to set up a new party.
Erdogan has downplayed the threat but also warned Babacan against splitting the “ummah” — using the Arabic word for the Muslim community.
Experts say the president will not quietly accept these challenges.
“Erdogan is likely to combat any threat he sees to his personalized rule,” said Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University.
She pointed to the jailing of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas who had vehemently opposed Erdogan, and the ongoing trials of civil society leaders and AKP opponents.
Turkey has been to the polls eight times in just five years, but now any new party will have potentially until the next elections in 2023 to create momentum and attract voters.
When he announced he was standing down as prime minister in 2016 after two years, Davutoglu vowed never to criticize Erdogan in public.
That promise lay in tatters this week as he spoke online for three hours, saying he would remain within the AKP for now, but that: “If there is no other option, a (new) party must be set up.”
For now, it appears unlikely that Davutoglu will join forces with other splitters from the AKP, having been a fairly divisive figure himself in the past.
However, there have been reports that former president and co-founder of the AKP, Abdullah Gul, could act as an “honorary chairman” to a party led by Babacan.
It had been mooted that Gul would run against Erdogan in last year’s presidential elections, but he never came forward.
Erdogan criticized Babacan after his resignation, saying they disagreed over many issues, including interest rates, which the president controversially believes must be kept low to reduce inflation.
When asked if he was disappointed by Babacan, Davutoglu and Gul, Erdogan responded with evident exasperation: “For the love of Allah, should this question be asked? If one is not disappointed with them, who would one be disappointed with?”
But he said previous MPs had left the party and been largely forgotten.
The AKP came to power after the Turkish economy suffered a severe financial crisis in 2001, and needed an International Monetary Fund loan to emerge from the embers.
Eighteen years later, Turkey is again in an economic slump.
Inflation is at 15.7 percent; the rate of unemployment is 13 percent while the economy contracted by 2.6 percent in the first quarter of 2019.
According to Hintz, the success of any party launched by Babacan will “likely depend on the extent to which it offers concrete plans for tackling Turkey’s economic problems and social divides.”
She added that Babacan had a “shot at galvanizing Turkey’s center-right, particularly given widespread disillusion surrounding the personal enrichment of AKP leaders while Turkey’s economy slides further toward crisis.”
Erdogan and the AKP, set up in 2001, have won every general election since coming to power in 2002.
But after 25 years of the AKP and its predecessors running Istanbul, the country’s economic powerhouse is now in the hands of the opposition, despite a controversial push by the ruling party to order a re-run of the vote.
Erdogan still commands widespread loyalty, particularly in the provinces, said Emre Erdogan, professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, and no relation to the president.
But he said any new challenger could be “destructive” to Erdogan’s chances at the next election, given that presidential candidates must win over 50 percent of the vote.