Erdogan looks for new allies ahead of elections

Erdogan looks for new allies ahead of elections
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media. (AP)
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Updated 18 January 2021

Erdogan looks for new allies ahead of elections

Erdogan looks for new allies ahead of elections
  • The Felicity Party — a rising star among religious voters — approached by president amid eroding support for AKP

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hunting for potential electoral allies to bolster the People’s Alliance that he formed with the ultra-nationalist party MHP.

The next elections are not scheduled until June 2023, but the growing popularity of the opposition has made him aware of his vulnerability in a possible snap election.

The unification of the opposition brought victory in key municipalities, including Istanbul and Ankara, during the 2019 local elections. The mayors of both cities are potential presidential challengers to Erdogan.

The Nation Alliance, which stood against People’s Alliance in previous elections, consists of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the right-wing nationalist Good Party (IYI), with the backing of the Islamist-leaning Felicity Party (FP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

However, the FP has been approached by Erdogan in his attempt to broaden his own alliance. He had a meeting with Oguzhan Asilturk, a senior member of the party and a prominent political figure in the Islamist movement in Turkey, on Jan.7, stirring speculations about his motives.

Speaking to reporters the next day about meeting a senior figure in the FP rather than its leader, Erdogan said they discussed a possible future election alliance and the FP’s support in the government’s counterterrorism fight.

The FP, with 2.5 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, shares the same Islamist roots as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), and is a rising star among religious voters who are disillusioned by the authoritarian rule of Erdogan.

Its leader, Temel Karamollaoglu, has been in close contact with the breakaway parties from the AKP, especially with the leader of the Future Party, Ahmet Davutoglu, as both seek to capitalize on disenchanted AKP supporters in the coming elections by criticizing the rhetoric and one-man rule of Erdogan.

Joining the FP would help the AKP to keep its majority in the parliament, and would also undermine the smaller party’s opposition allies. All small parties need an electoral alliance to enter the parliament because of the 10 percent threshold.

The eroding support of the AKP and the threat to its parliamentary majority is no secret.

The latest survey by Ankara-based polling firm MetroPoll found that support for the AKP has fallen to its lowest point since 2002, when it came to power. It was down to around 30 percent, followed by CHP with 20 percent.

AKP’s ultra-nationalist partner MHP is expected to get only 6 percent, far below the threshold, obliging it to remain in the alliance.

“As Karamollaoglu’s rising power as an opposition figure continues, it won’t be easy for the FP to join the ruling coalition with Erdogan,” Osman Sert, research director at the Ankara Institute, told Arab News.

“FP electorate has now other alternatives with the newly established breakaway parties,” he added.

However, he thinks that Erdogan will continue to search for new coalition members. “Otherwise difficult days are ahead for AKP,” he said.

Levent Basturk, a political scientist who was also a candidate for the FP during March 2019 elections, said the party’s leverage in Turkish domestic politics has been rising since 2015.

“The Felicity Party challenges the polarizing discourse of President Erdogan. Its alliance with the main opposition CHP in the last elections helped the secular segments of Turkish society to reconcile with conservative people,” he told Arab News.

Erdogan has often accused the CHP of being indifferent to the concerns of the conservative people in Turkey, but with the new communication policy of the party, CHP has been reaching out to different segments of society, partly through the support of its electoral alliances.

Basturk thinks that a partnership with the ruling party would scare away a great proportion of the FP’s supporters who are categorically against the AKP.

“If the Felicity Party opts for an electoral alliance with the ruling AKP regardless of the objections coming from its hardcore voters, the party could dissolve in favor of the AKP. Several members of the Felicity Party therefore see the latest attempts of Erdogan as a move to weaken their party,” he said.

According to Basturk, the Felicity Party received an unexpectedly high share of votes in the latest elections with a rhetoric based on its objections to the authoritarianism in the country.

“The Felicity Party will not close all communication channels with the government right now. If it joins the ranks of the government, it will get more seats in the parliament but will be part of the corrupt system and so abolish the reason for its existence,” he said.


Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing
Updated 2 min 42 sec ago

Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

 Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing

Russian army says killed 'up to 200 militants' in Syria bombing.

More to follow


Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
Updated 19 April 2021

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
  • News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed bitterness and disappointment ahead of elections that are expected to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The Syrian Parliament has set May 26 as the date for the poll.

Assad won in 2014 with more than 88 percent of the Syrian vote. He has not officially announced his candidacy to run in next month’s election.

News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon, who also expressed their frustration with the international community.

Abu Ahmad Souaiba, speaking on behalf of the Voice of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said the revolution was launched to “achieve freedom and dignity.”

“Our disappointment today is great because of the failure to implement (UN) Security Council resolutions, which call for power transition not the re-election of Bashar Assad one more time,” he told Arab News.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon, with the majority of those who took part in the revolution against Assad concentrated in the Arsal area.

“There are three segments of Syrians in Lebanon,” said Souaiba. “One segment includes families who have been living in Lebanon since before the revolution and those who are not affiliated with the opposition. The second includes the opposition, and these migrated to Lebanon in 2013 and 2014 because of the barrels of death (barrel bombs). The third includes those who are neither with the opposition nor with the regime, and those (people) came to Lebanon because of the economic crisis and are concerned about obtaining their livelihood and the sustenance of their families.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon decreased to 865,500 by the end of Dec. 2020.

Lebanon called on the UNHCR to suspend new registrations at the beginning of 2015. 

About 55,000 have returned to Syria in recent years as part of repatriation efforts by Lebanese General Security and as part of a reconciliation program sponsored by Hezbollah in some Syrian towns.

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah has set up committees to fill out census forms with the number of Syrian refugees present in certain areas ahead of taking them to voting stations on polling day.

Talk of a Hezbollah census has coincided with information that the Ministry of Interior is waiting for UNHCR data in order to prepare a mechanism for calculating the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The ministry has been assigned this task in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanese General Security and the UNHCR.

Arab News contacted UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abu Khaled, but she refused to comment and only said there was “currently no refugee census.”

Souaiba believed there was no need to recount the refugees because, around six weeks ago, a census was carried out by NGOs under the supervision of Lebanese military intelligence for refugees in camps and settlements, specifically in the Arsal area which is open to the land connecting Lebanese and Syrian territories.

He also said there was news from inside Syria of hunger, even in Damascus, and painted a bleak picture of people’s desperation to escape.

“There is no fuel and no electricity,” he added. “A woman who fled to Lebanon with her children told me that her husband was arrested by Syrian authorities and his fate is still unknown. She is almost dying of starvation with her children. She preferred to flee to Lebanon with her children and borrowed $100 to pay the smuggler. She thought that in Lebanon she would receive some food, and this is better than hunger in Syria.”

A UNHCR study estimated that 89 percent of Syrian refugee families were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon in 2020, compared to 55 percent in 2019.


Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
Updated 19 April 2021

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
  • Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces could mean world powers would push for a resolution by June

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces in the IAEA’s talks with Tehran could mean France, Britain and Germany would push for a resolution with US backing by the next IAEA board meeting in June.
“The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.
The Iran nuclear deal effectively drew a line under what the IAEA and US intelligence agencies believe was a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that Iran halted in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
In the past two years, however, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.
The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.
The issue has been a complicating factor in the diplomatic effort to resurrect the 2015 deal, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 prompting Iran to violate some of its limits. President Joe Biden aims to resurrect the deal, but Washington and Tehran are at odds over how to do that.
A first IAEA-Iran meeting to discuss the uranium traces had been due to take place in Tehran in early April, but that was delayed just as talks to rescue the deal, involving its remaining parties and shuttle diplomacy with the United States, were being arranged in Vienna.
“Today’s meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital,” the IAEA said, using the deal’s full name.


El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP)
Updated 19 April 2021

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt

El-Sisi holds meeting on prosthetics production in Egypt
  • The president directed that the national capacity for the production of prosthetics should train technical cadres towards scientific, technical, and academic qualifications

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with a number of ministers and officials to advance plans to set up an integrated system for the production of prosthetics in Egypt.

The president was briefed on the efforts made to develop the prosthetic factory affiliated to the Rheumatology and Rehabilitation Military Center.

He was given details on the establishment of an industrial complex for prosthetics, devices, and movement aids, with the team taking advice from experts in the field.

The government is planning to acquire a new prosthetics production capability using high-quality raw materials. It is also aiming to develop qualification programs for training in the use of the products.

The president directed that the national capacity for the production of prosthetics should train technical cadres towards scientific, technical, and academic qualifications.

El-Sisi stressed the importance of retaining the manufacturing processes within Egypt to guarantee the provision of first-class prosthetics care to people in need.

The president also directed the preparation of a comprehensive database of the system, which should record medical cadres, technical workers, and requests for prosthetic limbs, with relevant authorities using resources from the Decent Life initiative.


Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels
A video footage circulated on social media shows dozens of people rushing to the scene of a vehicle loaded with free potatoes. (Social media)
Updated 36 min 14 sec ago

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels

Food stampedes in Turkey fuel fears over rising poverty levels
  • Virus pandemic, unemployment, soaring living costs contributing to country’s economic problems: Analysts, opposition leaders

ANKARA: Images showing desperate Turkish citizens scrambling to grab free handouts of potatoes have stoked an ongoing debate over chronic poverty in the country.

The government recently began distributing potatoes and onions to needy people in some of Turkey’s poorest provinces.

But despite strict measures on large gatherings, brought in to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), recent footage has shown crowds of people stampeding for the vegetables, some even picking up loose potatoes from the ground.

And members of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) claim the situation has only served to further highlight growing concerns over mass poverty, social injustice, and soaring food prices.

Under allocations, those requiring food aid were to receive 10 kg of onions and 20 kg of potatoes purchased by the government from farms.

“The image of crowds piled up for free potatoes and onions, as their only source of diet, has been the clearest picture of the Turkish economy right now,” Serkan Ozcan, an economist and founding member of the breakaway Future Party, told Arab News.

Turkey recently saw 250,000 people added to its jobless total, taking the figure for February to 4.23 million, an unemployment rate of 14.1 percent. In the same month, official statistics showed the annual inflation rate running at 15.61 percent.

“Since 2016, Turkey’s national income per capita decreased by one-quarter, and it is the worst record among its peers in emerging markets. When people are so desperate for potatoes and onions, it means that the government is not able to govern the country,” Ozcan said.

“Farmers are obliged to sell their excess products at cost, and people need to pile up in the streets because they cannot find jobs to feed their families.”

Food has become extremely extensive in Turkey, with annual consumer prices jumping to 15 percent, second only to Argentina among emerging market peers.

Separately, Turkish opposition parties have been pushing the government to account for money they claim has gone missing from Central Bank reserves.

In a tweet, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, said: “We are asking about the money of the poor, those in need, and orphans.”

Worries about paying bills and putting food on tables have become major priorities for Turks under the economic deterioration in the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent survey in Turkey by international market research firm Ipsos revealed that 40 percent of Turks were concerned about poverty and social inequality, while 47 percent had fears about unemployment.

“People are suffering not only because of the pandemic but also due to income loss and rising living costs,” said Seren Selvin Korkmaz, executive director of the Istanbul Political Research Institute.

“In addition to increasing food prices the costs of basic services such as rent, electricity, and water have contributed to poverty. As a result, the economic downturn is evident in the crowds gathered around the potato trucks.”

Despite the possibility of several short-term financial support measures, Korkmaz said that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had no expertise in health or economic crisis management.

“I think the current presidential system without independent institutions based on good governance and expertise cannot provide viable solutions for the economic problems of the country.

“Hence, the economic situation might hit the current government in the next election if the opposition can provide viable economic policy vision to the voters,” she added.

More than 100 musicians in Turkey have committed suicide since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after having lost their jobs and received no state support.

The government’s wage support program for employees of companies that have been hit by the pandemic also ended this month, leaving millions of people deprived of the scheme.

Korkmaz said: “Inequalities in the country are exacerbated by the AKP’s agricultural policy, education, and healthcare policies, as well as acute poverty during the pandemic. As a result, it can take years to recover from the effects in society.”