Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets members of his ruling AKP during a meeting at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 25, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 November 2020

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor

Political cracks in Turkish government deepen in nationalist’s favor
  • Turkey’s judiciary, economy and other areas evidently need reforms

ANKARA: Senior Turkish officials close to the presidency have criticized decisions by the ruling AKP party amid the growing power of two breakaway parties, DEVA and Future.

On Tuesday, Bulent Arinc, Presidential High Advisory Board member and former deputy prime minister, resigned following a dispute with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over recent remarks in which Arinc criticized the imprisonment of Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and prominent businessperson and dissident civil society figure Osman Kavala.

“Turkey’s judiciary, economy and other areas evidently need reforms. There is a need for our country to relax and to find a solution to our nation’s troubles. I decided that it would be more appropriate for me to leave my position as a member of the High Advisory Board,” he said on Twitter.

The move followed the resignation of Berat Albayrak, the finance minister and son-in-law of Erdogan, this time with a bombshell Instagram post on Sunday night.

In a televised interview on Nov. 20, just days after Erdogan pledged a new reform wave for Turkey’s judiciary, Arinc defended the releases of Kavala and Demirtas. His suggestion was harshly criticized by Erdogan, whose remarks “offended” Arinc.

Demirtas, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, was jailed in November 2016 over allegations of supporting terrorism. He faces up to 142 years in jail despite an immediate release plea by the European Court of Human Rights.

Saying that the “arrest should not be turned into a punishment,” Arinc also urged people to read Demirtas’ storybook “Devran,” authored in jail “to understand the Kurds and their suffering.”

Kavala has been imprisoned since 2017 although he was never convicted of a crime.

“Arinc will go down as another big name within the AKP being pushed aside by a more irrational guard within the party that is more interested in rousing its small but vocal army of trolls, than it is listening to criticism within the party,” Louis Fishman, a Turkey expert from Brooklyn College, told Arab News.

“For Erdogan, this move could undermine his call for judicial reforms, motivated by his wish to fix the state’s image abroad,” he added.

However, there are several rumors about cracks within the People’s Alliance, formed between the AKP and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), although MHP leader Devlet Bahceli dismissed them on Tuesday.

“Cowards, plotters and swindlers are targeting the People’s Alliance,” he said. The latest remarks by Arinc, an AKP co-founder, are said to have angered Bahceli, who flexed his muscles following the comments and pushed his ouster.

The recent operation against 101 Kurdish lawyers and activists in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir were reportedly conducted to please the alliance with the nationalistic party.

Fishman said that Arinc’s resignation will have sent a strong message to Europe and the incoming Biden administration in the US that Turkey is “not really ready” to take serious steps in judicial reform.

“The AKP is now stuck between a rock and a hard place. It’s hard to imagine that reforms can actually strengthen its weakening status, and thus it runs the risk of losing its MHP support. However, without the reforms, it also faces continued strife within the international realm. We will need to wait and see what path it takes in the near future,” he said.

Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, said the ruling alliance has been hit hard by the economic crisis that recently worsened following the COVID-19 outbreak in Turkey.

“The super-presidential system, which was introduced in 2018, has only worsened Turkey’s governance record in domestic politics and the international arena. Faced with economic troubles, the government does not have sufficient resources to address growing popular unrest, especially in major urban centers,” he told Arab News.

Esen said that Joe Biden’s recent election win added to Erdogan’s fear that his government could soon come under growing international pressure.

“Therefore, he may have been compelled to take some cosmetic measures to appease Turkey’s former allies by taking half steps, such as releasing Kavala and Demirtas. This turn away from the party’s nationalist course was also arguably supported by former AKP heavyweights like Arinc,” he said.

But the honeymoon didn’t continue for too long due to backlash coming from the MHP.

In his speech to the parliamentary group on Wednesday, Erdogan said that “the ruling AK Party’s coalition with the ultranationalist MHP was drawn with blood during the July 15 coup attempt against the putschists.”

Refuting the criticism voiced by Arinc and extending an olive branch to nationalistic sensitivities, Erdogan also said “there is no longer a Kurdish question in Turkey” and “Demirtas is a terrorist whose hands are covered by blood.”

Erdogan also called on the judiciary to act against those who asked for the releases of Demirtas and Kavala, because the demands “violate the constitution’s article 138, which bans issuing orders to the courts.”

According to Esen, the political crisis has weakened Erdogan’s hold on power.

“It increased his dependence on MHP leader Bahceli, who remains a key actor in the ruling coalition and provides Erdogan with nationalist ammunition to deal with opponents,” he added.

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
Updated 31 min 5 sec ago

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’

Lebanese protesters break lockdown: ‘Death by COVID-19 is better than starvation’
  • Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy

BEIRUT: The closure and curfew period in Lebanon has been extended for two more weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), prompting people in Tripoli, Beirut, and Sidon to take to the streets.

The protests were spontaneous, considering that the neighborhoods from which they started are poor, where the residents work for daily wages.

The Minister of Social Affairs and Tourism in the caretaker government Ramzi Musharrafieh said on Tuesday that “230,000 families in Lebanon benefit from aid and have been receiving 400,000 Lebanese pounds ($263) per month since the beginning of the crisis.” He added that “25 percent of the Lebanese people do not need aid.”

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Tripoli, Sidon, and Beirut to denounce the suspension of the economy and the failure to provide people with alternatives.

One of the protesters said: “Contracting COVID-19 and dying of it is easier than having my family and myself starve to death.”

Protesters in Tripoli took to Al-Nour Square on Monday after days of expressing their impatience and protesting outside the houses of the city’s officials.

One of the protesters said: “COVID-19 does not scare us. We cannot tolerate this life of humiliation anymore. The officials in power have starved and robbed us.”

The protesters clashed with the security forces — the army and the Internal Security Forces — hurling stones and water bottles at them. 

Their chants demanded financial compensation for the poorest families, who have not been able to work for two weeks and must wait a further two weeks before they can return to their jobs, resulting in a whole month without any financial income.

The protests spiralled out of control and turned into riots that ended with dozens of arrests. Several army personnel were deployed to control the situation in Al-Nour Square and its vicinity. Riot police used tear gas to disperse the protesters.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it brought in six ambulances as 41 people were injured during the protests. The organization transferred 12 people to hospitals, while 29 were treated at the scene.

In support of the Tripoli protests, dozens gathered at the Ring Bridge in central Beirut.

Activists gathered in Sidon’s Elia Square for a vigil, amid security measures. The protesters chanted slogans denouncing the political authority’s arbitrary decisions, which they argue worsened the economic collapse. 

Some protesters said that 60 percent of the poor people in Lebanon are suffering because of these decisions, which were not accompanied with support for people who were laid off due to lockdown measures.

The protests extended to Taalbaya in the Bekaa and the coastal town of Jiyeh. The protesters moved from the poor neighborhoods of Beirut to Corniche el Mazraa and blocked the road, but the riot police reopened it.

Bechara Al-Asmar, head of the General Labor Union, told Arab News: “Things are heading toward chaos, and the authorities’ decisions are ill-considered. When forcing people to stop working, it is important to give them incentives and compensation. There are 120,000 daily workers impacted by the closure, which has come amid a severe economic crisis.”

He added: “They must exempt the factories that suspended production so that they can survive and not lay off their workers if the closure results in stopping operation. 

“What can the factories that have agreements with clients abroad do to deliver their products? This is the only sector that is bringing Lebanon fresh money and giving people jobs.”

Al-Asmar said that aid provided by the government “covers 47,000 families, and a further 8,000 taxi drivers have been added to them. This is a small percentage compared to the need among the general population.”

He continued: “Employees are now receiving half a salary or a very meager salary if they don’t lose their jobs as employers prefer shutting down their businesses to continuous losses.”

Bechara added: “We are facing a major social crisis. The daily workers are complaining of their inability to put bread on the table, while the state is unable to hold coordination meetings, so how can it provide compensation for those affected?”