Reunited Turkish opposition names center-left Kilicdaroglu as presidential candidate

Reunited Turkish opposition names center-left Kilicdaroglu as presidential candidate
Turkiye’s main opposition Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu greets his supporters at the party’s headquarters after a six-party alliance announced him as its presidential candidate. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 March 2023

Reunited Turkish opposition names center-left Kilicdaroglu as presidential candidate

Reunited Turkish opposition names center-left Kilicdaroglu as presidential candidate
  • Opposition bloc pledges to return country to parliamentary system and endorse the separation of powers

ANKARA: Turkiye’s six-party opposition bloc on Monday announced the joint presidential candidature of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkiye’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), who is set to face off against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May elections.

“We will govern Turkiye with consultations and compromise,” Kilicdaroglu said during the launch ceremony of his candidature in Ankara. “Our table is the table of peace. Our only goal is to take the country to days of prosperity, peace and joy.”

All eyes are now on Kilicdaroglu, who will challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in upcoming elections due to be held on May 14.

The opposition bloc’s deal came after intense negotiations to overcome objections by Meral Aksener, the leader of nationalist Good Party, the second biggest party of the bloc.

Erdogan is expected to officially call for elections on Friday.

If Kilicdaroglu wins in the runoff against Erdogan, he has promises that each party leader in the bloc, as well as the two popular mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, will become vice-presidents in his government.

In the road map announced by the opposition bloc on Monday, coalition party leaders pledged to return to the country to a parliamentary system and endorse the separation of powers.

The 74-year-old challenger, whose surname translates to “son of a swordsman,” grew up in a humble family of seven and spent his childhood in a remote village of Turkiye’s southeastern province of Tunceli, an Alevi stronghold.

Kilicdaroglu’s allegiance to the Alevi faith — a Shiite religious tradition — is often downplayed by the party leader, and is sometimes seen as a potential drawback to his popularity among Turkiye’s predominantly Sunni voter base.

In several interviews, Kilicdaroglu discussed the financial difficulties he faced during childhood. As a top student, he studied finance during his university education. He later excelled in the civil service by working at the finance ministry and then becoming general manager of Turkiye’s social security agency.

Following his retirement, he became a member of the CHP, where he gained popularity over a report he penned on corruption in the public sector, boosting his image in voters’ eyes. He would then acquire the nickname “Gandhi Kemal,” both because of his physical resemblance to Indian civil rights’ leader Mahatma Gandhi and his campaigns against injustice, including staging a three-week 450 km protest march from Ankara to Istanbul.

Kilicdaroglu has been a CHP parliamentarian since 2002 and staged an unsuccessful bid for the Istanbul mayor’s office in 2009.

After Kilicdaroglu became the chairman of the CHP in 2010, he contributed to the transformation of the main opposition party into a center-left social democratic powerhouse.

Unlike his predecessor, Kilicdaroglu has forged diverse alliances and ties with other opposition parties, including Islamist, pro-Kurdish and far-leftist groups, in an attempt to promote a pluralistic Turkish society.

“Kilicdaroglu’s vision is around democratic resilience against populist authoritarianism in Turkiye: Fear and resentment vs. radical love and justice. He embraces the country’s plurality and opts for transitional justice rather than revenge,” said political scientist Seren Selvin Korkmaz.

Kilicdaroglu is also known as one of the figures behind the success of Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, who assumed office in the Istanbul and Ankara municipalities, respectively.

And now Kilicdaroglu faces the biggest challenge of his political career in arguably the most consequential election in Turkiye’s modern history.

“Kilicdaroglu is not the opposition’s most charismatic figure but he has the ability to unify actors from diverse backgrounds,” Orcun Selcuk, assistant professor of political science and director of the International Studies program at Luther College, told Arab News.

“He is able to work with nationalists, Islamists and former leading figures within the ruling party.”

In order to win in the first round, a presidential candidate should reach a clear majority. Failing that, the top two candidates face off in the second round.

It is remains to be seen whether the third alliance bloc of left-wing parties will nominate a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections.

As Kurdish support is critical in determining Turkiye’s 13th president, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party co-chair Mithat Sancar congratulated Kilicdaroglu for his candidature and invited him to the party’s headquarters.

Selcuk said: “Yet, the plurality of actors within the opposition camp makes it difficult to manage in crisis situations. The biggest challenge is to manage and balance different factions within the opposition that support Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.

“In the last few years, due to the government’s poor economic performance, the opposition has been gaining ground.

“Elections and referenda in Turkiye are typically very close and public opinion polls show that the ruling coalition may have difficulty in reaching 51 percent,” he added.

However, according to Emre Peker, europe director at Eurasia Group, Kilicdaroglu was the weakest potential challenger to Erdogan and will have to fight an uphill battle to overcome the president in the elections.

“His personal background and track record as leader of the CHP, coupled with intracoalition tensions stemming from the Good Party’s resistance to his candidacy, will complicate efforts to mount an effective campaign,” he told Arab News.

Peker said that Kilicdaroglu will appeal to Kurdish and left-wing voters, but that risks costing him conservative and nationalist votes he has courted through parties he brought under the Nation Alliance umbrella.

“Moreover, he will be vulnerable to attacks on his personality by pro-government media to deter undecided voters — mostly from the ruling AKP’s conservative base — from voting for the opposition, and Erdogan will paint him as a loser, citing his failure to win any elections outright since becoming CHP leader in May 2010,” he said.

Peker added that Kilicdaroglu only stands a slim chance of beating Erdogan.

“Polls consistently showed him trailing other potential challengers — the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara — and Kilicdaroglu could not establish a decisive lead over Erdogan despite the economic and other problems facing Turkiye. Kilicdaroglu and the CHP’s insistence on his nomination despite these facts has proved divisive,” he said.

“He is also likely to struggle to overcome prejudices against the CHP among many conservative voters, whose support he would need to clinch the presidency.”

Violence in Tunisia prompts increase in migrants heading for Europe

Violence in Tunisia prompts increase in migrants heading for Europe
Updated 20 March 2023

Violence in Tunisia prompts increase in migrants heading for Europe

Violence in Tunisia prompts increase in migrants heading for Europe
  • Sub-Saharan migrants cross Mediterranean after President Saied blames them for crime, demographic change
  • Italian PM Meloni warns Europe faces ‘invasion’ if more not done to halt flow of people

LONDON: Migrants from the Ivory Coast and other sub-Saharan countries are attempting to flee to Europe after an uptick in violence against them in Tunisia.

North Africa has long been used as a staging post for people desperate to leave the continent and travel northward, but numbers have increased after Tunisian President Kais Saied blamed migrants for an increase in crime in his country, and claimed their presence was part of a plot to “change the demographic makeup” of Tunisia.

That has led to a number of migrants facing violence or eviction from their accommodation. Some have even been shot at.

One Ivorian migrant, 30-year-old Noela, told The Times: “My husband was arrested, I have been robbed at knifepoint and I am scared to leave home. People here were nice, but now things have changed.”

Many are now buying boats in order to strike out for Italy, despite efforts by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to curb the number of migrants traveling to the peninsula.

An activist in the Tunisian port town of Sfax, which is seeing the bulk of the traffic, said: “Sailings are linked to that speech (by President Saied) and Ivorians are the biggest group among those leaving.”

Meloni claims charity organizations running boats in the region are helping migrants to make dangerous crossings, and has warned Europe faces “an invasion” if more is not done to stop the flow. So far this year 20,000 people have successfully made the journey to Italy, with 12,000 of those coming from Tunisia.

At least 80 people died in the Mediterranean last month on the way to Italy from Turkey, while 30 more drowned off the coast of Libya last week.

Between March 6 and 12, Ivorians, whose country has seen a number of civil wars since the turn of the century, made up the largest single group among the 3,300 people who made the trip to Italy, most via the island of Lampedusa. Another 1,500 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were turned back by the Tunisian coast guard.

A Tunisian people smuggler told The Times that many were making the trip now as it was “the last chance for them” amid Tunisia’s increasing hostility and Italy tightening its rules.

Another smuggler added that Tunisians were increasingly refusing to travel with sub-Saharans across the sea so as not to give away their identity on account of their skin color, leading to migrants buying vessels to pilot themselves.

“They have no jobs, no food, nothing. This has convinced them to go as soon as possible,” he told The Times. “They are good — they don’t steal boats, but they buy them.”

Ivorian DJ Dobe Aboubacar, based in Tunis, said most of his countrymen in Tunisia planned to leave for Germany or France.

“Because of the poor economy in Tunisia — and then because of the president’s speech — even more now want to leave,” Aboubacar, who runs a Facebook page for migrants in Tunisia, added.

Palestinian PM blasts ‘racism’ of Israeli minister

Palestinian PM blasts ‘racism’ of Israeli minister
Updated 28 min 36 sec ago

Palestinian PM blasts ‘racism’ of Israeli minister

Palestinian PM blasts ‘racism’ of Israeli minister
  • Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich: ‘There are no Palestinians, because there are no Palestinian people’

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Monday blasted as “inflammatory” remarks made by far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich that Palestinians do not exist.
“There are no Palestinians, because there are no Palestinian people,” Smotrich said Sunday, quoting French-Israeli Zionist activist Jacques Kupfer, speaking at an event in Paris according to a video circulating on social media.
“After 2,000 years of exile, the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah are beginning to come true and God is gathering his people, the people of Israel are returning home,” Smotrich said.
“There are Arabs around who don’t like it, so what do they do? They invent a fictitious people and claim fictitious rights to the land of Israel, only to fight the Zionist movement,” he added.
Smotrich last year became a minister in the cabinet of Israel’s veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu, which analysts have called the most right-wing government in the country’s history.
“It is the historical truth, it is the biblical truth... the Arabs in Israel must hear it, as well as certain Jews who are confused in Israel, this truth must be heard here at the Elysee Palace (in Paris), and at the White House in Washington, and everyone must hear this truth,” Smotrich continued.
Shtayyeh, speaking before a cabinet meeting of the Palestinian Authority on Monday, said the “inflammatory statements are consistent with the first Zionist sayings of ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.”
He said the comments were “conclusive evidence of the extremist, racist Zionist ideology... of the current Israeli government.”
Smotrich and his Religious Zionism group have a history of making incendiary remarks about Palestinians.
In February, Smotrich called for the Palestinian town of Hawara in the occupied West Bank to be “wiped out” after two Israelis were shot dead by an alleged Hamas militant.
Hundreds of rampaging Israeli settlers later torched Palestinian homes and cars in the West Bank town.

Anatomy of a disaster
Two decades later, Iraqis are still paying the price for Bush's ill-judged war

Iraq to hold provincial elections on November 6

Iraq to hold provincial elections on November 6
Updated 20 March 2023

Iraq to hold provincial elections on November 6

Iraq to hold provincial elections on November 6
  • Elections for the councils, the first in a decade, will take place in 15 of 18 Iraqi provinces

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s parliament has set November 6 as the date for elections for provincial councils, powerful bodies that were dissolved amid anti-government protests in 2019.
“Provincial elections will take place on November 6, 2023,” a statement from parliament said Monday, after lawmakers agreed on the date overnight.
The elections for the councils, the first in a decade, will take place in 15 of 18 Iraqi provinces, excluding the three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
The provincial councils, created by the 2005 constitution following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, carry relatively significant power in federal Iraq, including allocating the budgets for health, transport and education.
The last provincial elections took place in 2013, when loyalists of then prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki came out on top.
The next provincial elections should have taken place in 2018, but were postponed.
A year later, amid vast anti-government rallies, protesters demanded and obtained the dissolution of the provincial councils, in part because critics accused them of being rife with corruption.
Alaa Al-Rikabi, an independent MP who emerged in the aftermath of the October 2019 protest movement, condemned the return of the councils.
“We refuse to allow them to be reinstated,” he said, adding that they “open the door wide to corruption.”

Iraq PM to hold Turkiye talks on water, Kurdish rebels

Iraq PM to hold Turkiye talks on water, Kurdish rebels
Updated 20 March 2023

Iraq PM to hold Turkiye talks on water, Kurdish rebels

Iraq PM to hold Turkiye talks on water, Kurdish rebels
  • Shia Al-Sudani to meet Turkiye’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his first visit to Iraq’s northern neighbor since he came to power in October
BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani will visit Turkiye on Tuesday for talks including on scarce water resources and the rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a government source said.
Sudani is set to meet Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his first visit to Iraq’s northern neighbor since he came to power in October, an adviser to the head of the Iraqi government said, speaking anonymously.
“The two main issues are water and the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq,” he added, referring to the rebel group that has been fighting the Turkish army for decades.
War-scarred Iraq is now digging ever deeper for water as a frenzy of dam-building, mainly in Turkiye, sucks water out of the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates.
The Tigris and the Euphrates both have their sources in Turkiye, and Baghdad has long accused Ankara of withholding water in dams that choke the rivers, dramatically reducing flows into Iraq.
According to official Iraqi statistics from last year, the level of the Tigris entering Iraq has dropped to just 35 percent of its average over the past century.
Declining river flows have been made worse by a dire lack of rainfall in recent years, coupled with poor irrigation practices in Iraq that see excessive exploitation of water from the rivers.
Amid criticism, Turkiye’s ambassador to Iraq, Ali Riza Guney, ruffled feathers last July when he said, “water is largely wasted in Iraq” and called on people to “use the available water more efficiently.”
Sudani will also discuss with Erdogan the presence of rear bases of Kurdish fighters from the Turkish PKK rebels in northern Iraq, which Ankara has repeatedly sought to root out in air and ground operations.
The rebels have kept up a deadly insurgency for Kurdish self-rule in southeastern Turkiye since 1984.
Turkiye has dozens of military facilities in northern Iraq for use in its war against the PKK, which Ankara and its Western allies blacklist as a “terrorist” group.
In July 2022, Iraq blamed Turkiye for artillery strikes on a park in Iraqi Kurdistan that killed nine civilians, including women and children.
Turkiye denied its troops were responsible and accused the PKK.

Kuwait Oil Company declares ‘state of emergency’ after oil spill on land

Kuwait Oil Company declares ‘state of emergency’ after oil spill on land
Updated 20 March 2023

Kuwait Oil Company declares ‘state of emergency’ after oil spill on land

Kuwait Oil Company declares ‘state of emergency’ after oil spill on land
  • No injuries or disruption to production had been reported

KUWAIT: The Kuwait Oil Company declared a “state of emergency” on Monday after an oil spill on land in the west of the country, according to a statement posted on the company’s Twitter account.

However, no injuries or disruption to production had been reported, said Qusai Al-Amer, head of admin support at the company.

“No toxic fumes have been detected on site,” he added.

Teams have been dispatched to determine the source of the leak and contain the incident, Al-Amer said.

The Kuwait Oil Company has previously reported oil leaks in its fields in 2020 and 2016.

In 2017, Kuwaiti authorities reported two slicks off the Gulf’s state’s shores over the span of a few days.

With AFP