Erdogan’s nationalist rival faces uphill struggle after breakthrough

The first woman to stand for the presidency in Turkish history, Aksener, 61, broke away from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that dominated nationalist politics for the last half-century. (AFP)
Updated 02 June 2018
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Erdogan’s nationalist rival faces uphill struggle after breakthrough

ANKARA: Nationalist Meral Aksener may have broken the mold by challenging Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the presidency barely eight months after creating a new party but she faces an uphill struggle to even be the top opposition candidate.
The first woman to stand for the presidency in Turkish history, Aksener, 61, broke away from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) that dominated nationalist politics for the last half-century and in October launched her own faction — the Iyi Parti (Good Party).
While the MHP and its longstanding leader Devlet Bahceli, 70, formed an alliance with Erdogan for the June 24 election, Aksener moved in outright opposition to the Turkish strongman.
The formation of the new party was seen as a tectonic shift in Turkish politics, given the importance of the nationalist electorate, with many analysts saying she has a decent chance of challenging Erdogan.
But with markedly little television airtime, Aksener faces a tough challenge to rally support especially with the other main opposition candidate, Muharrem Ince of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), gaining momentum.
And her reputation as a diehard nationalist and her past as ex-interior minister means it is unlikely she will make inroads among the Kurdish minority who comprise around a fifth of the electorate.
“Looking at the election mathematics, Ince will most likely be the runner-up and Aksener will follow,” said Fuat Keyman, director of the Istanbul Policy Center think tank.
If no candidate wins 50 percent in the first round, there will a run-off vote between the two frontrunners on July 8.
Odul Celep, associate professor of political science at Isik University in Istanbul, said it would likely be Ince rather than Aksener making it to a run-off.
Ince, he said, could both “solidify the party base but also rally more non-partisan, independent and floating voters around him.”
Aksener defines herself as a nationalist and committed follower of Turkey’s secular founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk yet also socially conservative and a practicing Muslim. She shies away from comparisons to European far-right politicians such as Front National’s Marine Le Pen in France.
She has also been challenged on her policy toward Syrian refugees in a country which is hosting some 3.5 million people who fled the Syrian civil war.
Aksener came under fire for saying that she would have an “iftar” meal which breaks the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with Syrians in 2019 — but only in their homeland.
Known for her fiery rhetoric and dubbed by some foreign media as Turkey’s “iron lady,” Aksener has denied suggesting refugees be thrown out.
As part of her campaign, she has promised to end a string of measures put in place by Erdogan, such as the state of emergency imposed after the failed coup of 2016, and the block on Wikipedia.
She has also pledged to scrap the presidential system due to take effect after the vote.
“She portrays herself as the antidote to the ills that are plaguing Turkey today and is focusing her campaign on rectified governance, justice and accountability,” Anthony Skinner, MENA director at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told AFP.
According to Celep, Aksener has qualities that form a “unique combination” as an urban, secular, educated figure with her roots very much in the right wing of Turkish politics.
But her biggest stumbling block may be winning over the Kurds, who are wary of her nationalism and have bitter memories of her 1996-7 stint as interior minister during the deadliest years of the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast.
During her campaign, Aksener called for the release of the jailed Selahattin Demirtas, the imprisoned candidate for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its former leader.
“How will Turkey account for this competitive inequality?” she said, insisting he should be free to campaign.
But HDP’s co-leader has vowed Aksener would not win any Kurdish votes.
“Starting with me, no Kurd will give their vote to Mrs.Aksener,” Pervin Buldan told the Gazete Duvar news website. “This absolutely will not happen.”
So far, Aksener has been “shy” to openly cite Turkey’s Kurdish minority as “an issue” or make references to their identity or ethnicity, Celep said.
But among Kurds and some leftists there was a “negative perception” of Aksener, whose chances were likely to be affected by “her time as minister and because she is a Turkish nationalist,” said Ozer Sencar, chairman of the Metropoll pollster.


Migrant workers still exploited in World Cup host Qatar: Amnesty

Updated 56 min 10 sec ago

Migrant workers still exploited in World Cup host Qatar: Amnesty

PARIS: Qatar is not fulfilling all its promises to improve the conditions of migrant workers in the country in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty International said Thursday.
In a report entitled "All Work, No Pay", the rights group said: "Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers."
The report came as French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani were due to meet in Paris on Thursday.
Sheikh Tamim also attended Wednesday's high-profile clash between Paris Saint-Germain -- owned by Qatar's state-owned investment fund -- and Real Madrid.
Doha has made efforts since being named World Cup hosts to improve the conditions of the migrant workers who make up a majority of the Gulf emirate's population.
In November 2017, a temporary $200 monthly minimum wage was introduced for most categories of workers with a permanent level expected to be set before the end of the year.
Exit visas granted at the discretion of employers, required by some workers to leave the country, should be entirely scrapped by the end of 2019 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
But Amnesty reported challenges faced by hundreds of workers at three construction and cleaning companies in Qatar who went unpaid for months.
"Migrant workers often go to Qatar in the hope of giving their families a better life; instead many people return home penniless after spending months chasing their wages, with too little help from the systems that are supposed to protect them," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty's deputy director of global issues.
After coming under fire over the treatment of migrant workers, Qatar agreed with the ILO in 2017 to undertake labour reforms, including establishing new dispute resolution committees.
"We are urging the Qatari authorities to fully deliver what has been promised and end the shameful reality of labour exploitation," Cockburn said.
Amnesty cited the case of a Kenyan employee of United Cleaning who said he had to rummage for food in garbage bins after receiving no salary for five months.
The man said he had worked for two years and five months for the company without taking any holidays and was owed "a lot of money".
The companies all cited financial difficulties for the non-payment of wages, according to the report.
A Qatar government spokesman said the country had "made substantial progress on labour reforms".
"We continue to work with NGOs, including the ILO, to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective," he said in a statement.
"Any issues or delays with our systems will be addressed comprehensively. We have said, from the outset that this would take time, resources and commitment."