Turkey’s economic woes lift opposition hopes

People listen to Mehmet Ozhaseki, the candidate of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, and opposition Nationalist Movement Party, MHP, for Ankara Metropole, during a rally by MHP in Kecioren district, in Ankara, Turkey, on March 10, 2019. The countrywide local elections scheduled for March 31, 2019 with 57 million registered voters. (AP)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Turkey’s economic woes lift opposition hopes

  • A recent poll by the opposition CHP in 29 provinces found that about 60 percent of voters are frustrated over the country’s economic decline
  • Voter frustration may translate into the loss of some big cities, including the capital Ankara and Istanbul

ANKARA: As Turkey’s March 31 local elections draw closer, economic issues are becoming a major priority for the country’s voters. 

While the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has based its electoral success on the country’s prosperity for almost two decades, declining living standards and an economic downturn may signal a shift to rival parties in the election. 

Turkey was once an attractive option for investors trying to reach out to emerging markets, but the country’s economic outlook has changed significantly in recent years with double-digit inflation and a currency growing weaker by the day. 

Analysts say the economic concerns of middle-class voters, whose purchasing power has been primarily hit, will determine the electoral outcome if they turn against the AKP. 

In the previous local elections, the AKP won 43 percent of the vote, while its nearest rival, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), polled below 25 percent. 

Growing tensions between Turkey and the US are expected to further erode the value of the Turkish lira in the coming months. 

To reduce the impact of economic hardships on impoverished voters, Turkey’s government recently opened market stalls selling cheap produce. Long queues are a common sight at the stalls. 

Voter frustration may translate into the loss of some big cities, including the capital Ankara and Istanbul, where the AKP has ruled for decades.  Istanbul has added significance for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who began his political carrier as mayor of the city. Former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is running for election in the city against his secular rival Ekrem Imamoglu. 

A recent poll by the opposition CHP in 29 provinces found that about 60 percent of voters are frustrated over the country’s economic decline. 

Burhanettin Bulut, a CHP parliamentarian, said Turkish voters’ top priority will be “their empty cooking pot in the kitchen.” 

“Parents cannot give pocket money to their children when sending them to the school. From early morning until night, their main concern is how to feed themselves. Nobody is happy about this trend,” he told Arab News. 

Berk Esen, an international relations professor at Ankara’s Bilkent University, believes the poor economic outlook will make the election results in some cities, such as Ankara and the northwestern industrial hub Bursa, much tighter than in previous polls. 

“Although AKP voters will not split with their parties in a single stroke, some may opt not to vote to show their frustration. Voter turnout will be important in these elections when even 1 percent of votes can determine a candidate’s success,” he said. 

Some analysts said the alliance between the AKP and the nationalistic MHP party could offset the votes lost due to the economic outlook. 

But Esen said that in some cities where MHP candidates were not nominated, nationalistic constituencies may choose not to vote or to vote for opposition parties. 

The use of “religion” card by the government following the New Zealand terror attack is also seen as a strategy to divert attention from its economic failures. 

According to this view, voters in Turkey will not change loyalties because of ideological commitment. 

“If we focus on 30 metropolitan provinces where the majority of voters live, the number of battlefront elections is about 12,” Dr. Emre Erdogan, founder and director of the independent Infakto Research Workshop in Istanbul, told Arab News. 

“The CHP is guaranteed two provinces in the west, including Izmir, and the pro-Kurdish HDP can already list three provinces in the southeast. It seems that the AKP will gain 13 provinces hosting 10 million voters. The remaining provinces where 25 million voters live are accepted as competitive,” he said. 

Erdogan said that declining economic conditions might lead to eight of these provinces, including the southern provinces of Antalya and Mersin, as well as the northwestern province of Balikesir, voting for opposition parties. 

“In Ankara and Istanbul, the two biggest cities, the victory of the opposition will depend on third parties — Kurdish and nationalists votes,” he said. 

The HDP, with electoral support of about 10 percent, did not nominate candidates for Istanbul and Ankara, and is supporting opposition candidates.


‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

Updated 17 min 41 sec ago
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‘Sand mafias’ threaten Morocco’s coastline

  • Unscrupulous construction contractors illegally stripping beaches of sand
  • Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP

MOHAMMEDIA: Beneath an apartment block that looms over Monica beach in the western coastal city of Mohammedia, a sole sand dune has escaped the clutches of Morocco’s insatiable construction contractors.

Here, like elsewhere across the North African tourist magnet, sand has been stolen to help feed an industry that is growing at full tilt.

A report last month by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) on the global over-exploitation of this resource accuses “sand mafias” of destroying Morocco’s beaches and over-urbanizing its coastline.

“The dunes have disappeared along the entire city’s coastline,” lamented environmental activist Jawad, referring to Mohammedia, on the Atlantic between Rabat and Casablanca.

The 33-year-old environmental activist leads Anpel, a local NGO dedicated to coastal protection.

“At this rate, we’ll soon only have rocks” left, chipped in Adnane, a member of the same group.

More than half the sand consumed each year by Morocco’s construction industry — some 10 million cubic meters (350 million cubic feet) — is extracted illegally, according to UNEP.

“The looters come in the middle of the night, mainly in the low season,” said a local resident in front of his grand home on the Monica seafront.

“But they do it less often now because the area is full of people. In any case, there is nothing more to take,” added the affable forty-something.

Sand accounts for four-fifths of the makeup of concrete and — after water — is the world’s second most consumed resource.

Exploitation

Beaches and rivers are heavily exploited across the planet, legally and illegally, according to UNEP.

In Morocco, “sand is often removed from beaches to build hotels, roads and other tourism-related infrastructure,” according to UNEP. Beaches are therefore shrinking, resulting in coastal erosion.

“Continued construction is likely to lead to... destruction of the main natural attraction for visitors — beaches themselves,” the report warned.

Theft of sand from beaches or coastal dunes in Morocco is punishable by five years in prison.

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

FASTFACT

Siphoned away by donkey, delivery bike and large trucks, the beaches are being stripped from north to south, along a coastline that runs from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic.

“On some beaches, the sand has nearly disappeared” in parts of the north, said an ecological activist in Tangiers. “There has been enormous pressure on the beaches of Tangiers because of real estate projects,” he said.

To the south, the UNEP report noted, “sand smugglers have transformed a large beach into a rocky landscape” between Safi and Essaouira. Activist Jawad points to “small scale looting, like here in Mohammedia.”

But “then there is the intensive and structured trafficking by organized networks, operating with the complicity of some officials.”

While the sand mafias operate as smugglers, “key personalities — lawmakers or retired soldiers — hand out permits allowing them to over-exploit deposits, without respect for quotas,” he added.

A licensed sand dredger spoke of “a very organized mafia that pays no taxes” selling sand that is “neither washed nor desalinated,” and falls short of basic building regulations.

These mafia outfits have “protection at all levels... they pay nothing at all because they do everything in cash,” this operator added, on condition of anonymity.

“A lot of money is laundered through this trade.”

A simple smartphone helps visualize the extent of the disaster.

Via a Google Earth map, activist Adnane showed a razed coastal forest, where dunes have given way to a lunar landscape, some 200 km south of Casablanca.

Eyes fixed on the screen, he carefully scrutinized each parcel of land.

“Here, near Safi, they have taken the sand over (a stretch of) seven kilometers. It was an area exploited by a retired general, but there is nothing left to take,” he alleged.

Adnane pointed to another area — exploited, he said, by a politician who had a permit for “an area of two hectares.”

But instead, he “took kilometers” of sand.

Environmental protection was earmarked as a priority by Morocco, in a grandiose statement after the country hosted the 2016 COP22 international climate conference.

Asked by AFP about measures to fight uncontrolled sand extraction, secretary of state for energy Nezha El Ouafi pointed to “a national coastal protection plan (that) is in the process of being validated.”

The plan promises “evaluation mechanisms, with protection programs and (a) high status,” she said.

Meanwhile, environmental activists are pleading against the “head in the sand approach” over the scale of coastal devastation.