President Erdogan and PM Hasina vow to take Dhaka-Ankara ties to new height
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has reiterated his stance for working with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take the existing bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Turkey to a new height. The re-elected president of Turkey said this during a telephone call to PM Hasina at around 11:15 pm on Wednesday (May 31, 2023). The two leaders exchanged greetings and spoke to each other for 10 minutes, according to a press release from PMO Press Wing. Hasina congratulated Erdogan on securing victory at the second round election, where the voter turnout rate was above 86 percent. Read more: What 5 more years of Erdogan's rule means for Turkey She expressed her happiness over her confidence that the people of Turkey would make the right choice, which was proved after the runoff election. PM Hasina reiterated that the People of Bangladesh would remain steadfast to stand by the brotherly people of Turkey at any time of need, as during the February 2023 earthquake. President Erdogan expressed his gratitude that the brotherly people of Bangladesh mentally joined the jubilant people of Turkey at his victory in the second round election. To this end, he thanked the people of Bangladesh and wished to further strengthen the ties between the two peoples. Read more: Turkey's Erdogan retains power, now faces challenges over the economy and earthquake recovery Hasina conveyed her best wishes to Erdogan and his family members and wished continued peace, progress, and prosperity through him to the people of Turkey.
US says ‘the time is now’ for Sweden to join NATO and for Turkey to get new F-16s
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the "time is now" for Turkey to drop its objections to Sweden joining NATO but said the Biden administration also believed that Turkey should be provided with upgraded F-16 fighters "as soon as possible." Blinken maintained that the administration had not linked the two issues but acknowledged that some U.S. lawmakers had. President Joe Biden implicitly linked the two issues in a phone call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday. "I spoke to Erdogan and he still wants to work on something on the F-16s. I told him we wanted a deal with Sweden. So let's get that done," Biden said. Also Read: Finland could join NATO ahead of Sweden: Defense minister Still, Blinken insisted the two issues were distinct. However, he stressed that the completion of both would dramatically strengthen European security. "Both of these are vital, in our judgement, to European security," Blinken told reporters at a joint news conference in the northern Swedish city of Lulea with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. "We believe that both should go forward as quickly as possible; that is to say Sweden's accession and moving forward on the F-16 package more broadly." "We believe the time is now," Blinken said. He declined to predict when Turkey and Hungary, the only other NATO member not yet to have ratified Sweden's membership, would grant their approval. But, he said, "we have no doubt that it can be, it should be, and we expect it to be" completed by the time alliance leaders meet in Vilnius, Lithuania in July at an annual summit. Also Read: Erdogan might approve Finland’s NATO bid, ‘shock’ Sweden Fresh from a strong re-election victory over the weekend, Erdogan may be willing to ease his objections to Sweden's membership. Erdogan accuses Sweden of being too soft on groups Ankara considers to be terrorists, and a series of Quran-burning protests in Stockholm angered his religious support base — making his tough stance even more popular. Kristersson said the two sides had been in contact since Sunday's vote and voiced no hesitancy in speaking about the benefits Sweden would bring to NATO "when we join the alliance." Blinken is in Sweden attending a meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council and will travel to Oslo, Norway on Wednesday for a gathering of NATO foreign ministers, before going on to newly admitted alliance member Finland on Friday. Also Read: Erdogan says no support for Sweden's NATO bid Speaking in Oslo ahead of the foreign ministers' meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the goal was to have Sweden inside the grouping before the leaders' summit in July. "There are no guarantees, but it's absolutely possible to reach a solution and enable the decision on full membership for Sweden by the Vilnius summit," Stoltenberg said.
Turkish anti-migrant party backs Erdogan's rival in presidential runoff
A hard-line anti-migrant party on Wednesday threw its weight behind the opposition candidate who is running against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in this weekend's runoff presidential race. Umit Ozdag, the leader of the far-right Victory Party, announced his support for main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who will be facing off against Erdogan on Sunday. He said he decided to back Kilicdaroglu over his promises to repatriate millions of migrants. Ozdag's announcement came just days after Sinan Ogan, the third-placed contender in the first round of the presidential election on May 14, endorsed Erdogan in the upcoming runoff. Ogan was the joint candidate of an alliance of small conservative parties, led by Ozdag's Victory Party. Erdogan received 49.5% of the votes in the first round of the presidential race — just short of the majority needed for an outright victory — compared to Kilicdaroglu's 44.9%. Also Read: How Turkey's president maintains popularity despite economic turmoil Erdogan's ruling party and its nationalist and Islamist allies also retained a majority in the 600-seat parliament — a development that increases Erdogan's chances of reelection because voters are likely to vote for him to avoid a splintered government, analysts say. In an apparent attempt to woo nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu hardened his tone last week, vowing to send back refugees and ruling out any peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected. Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the joint candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, which has pledged to reverse Turkey's authoritarian drift under Erdogan and return the country to a parliamentary democracy with increased checks and balances. Turkey is home to the world's largest refugee community, including 3.7 million Syrians. Anti-migrant sentiment is running high in the country amid economic turmoil, including high inflation, and the issue of the repatriation of migrants has become a main campaign issue.
How Turkey's president maintains popularity despite economic turmoil
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has remained in power for 20 years by repeatedly surmounting political crises: mass protests, corruption allegations, an attempted military coup and a huge influx of refugees fleeing Syria's civil war. Now the Turkish people and economy are being pummeled by sky-high inflation, and many are still recovering from a devastating earthquake in February made worse by the government's slow response. Yet Erdogan — a populist with increasingly authoritarian instincts — enters a runoff election Sunday as the strong favorite against opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu after falling just shy of victory in the first round of voting. So, even with a weak hand, what explains his longevity and wide appeal? Erdogan, 69, has cultivated deep loyalty from conservative and religious supporters by elevating Islamic values in a country that has been defined by secularism for nearly a century. He has tightened his grip on power by deploying government resources to his political advantage — lavishly spending on infrastructure to please constituents, and strictly controlling the media to silence criticism. And he has swayed many Turks to his side by the way he navigates the world stage, showing that his country has an independent streak — and can flex its military — as it engages with the East and West. Erdogan's popularity at a moment of economic crisis also seems to be derived from the mere fact of his endurance; many people seem to want some stability, not more change, according to interviews with voters and analysts. "During times of national crises such as this one, people usually rally around the leader," said Gonul Tol, an analyst at the Middle East Institute in Washington. "The voters don't have enough faith in the opposition's ability to fix things." Already Turkey's longest serving leader, Erdogan would stretch his rule into a third decade — until 2028 — if he were to secure a majority of votes in the runoff. He received 49.5% of the votes in the first round — four percentage points ahead of Kilicdaroglu, a social democrat who has led the country's main opposition party since 2010. And on Monday Erdogan won the endorsement of the far-right candidate who finished in third place, giving him a boost heading into the runoff. Kilicdaroglu, an economist and former member of parliament, is the joint candidate of a six-party coalition alliance. He has promised to undo Erdogan's economic policies, which experts say have stoked inflation, and to reverse Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian leanings, including crackdowns on free speech. But his campaign has struggled to entice Erdogan supporters. "Look at the stage our country has arrived in the last 20 years. (The opposition) would take us back 50-60 years," said Bekir Ozcelik, a security guard in Ankara, who voted for Erdogan. "There is no other leader in the world that measures up to Erdogan." What Ozcelik and many other supporters see in Erdogan is a leader who has shown that Turkey can be a major player in geopolitics. Turkey is a key member of NATO because of its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it controls the alliance's second-largest army. Under Erdogan's rule, Turkey has proven to be an indispensable and, at times, troublesome NATO ally. It vetoed Sweden's entry into NATO and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, prompting the United States to oust Turkey from a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. Yet, together with the U.N., Turkey brokered a vital deal that has allowed Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger. After civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Erdogan embroiled Turkey by backing opposition fighters seeking to depose President Bashar Assad. The fighting triggered a surge of Syrian refugees that Erdogan has used as leverage against European nations, by threatening to open up Turkey's borders and swamp them with migrants. And Turkey now controls large swaths of territory in northern Syria, after a succession of military attacks aimed at Kurdish groups there affiliated with rebels that Turkey has outlawed. Erdogan has boasted about Turkey's military-industrial sector on the campaign trail citing homemade drones, aircraft and a warship touted as the world's first "drone carrier" — and the message appeared to resonate with voters on May 14, analysts say. On the domestic front, Erdogan has raised Islam's profile in country whose secular roots are fraying. He has curbed the powers of the once staunchly secularist military and lifted rules that barred conservative women from wearing headscarves in schools and government offices. To further rally his conservative supporters, Erdogan has disparaged Kilicdaroglu and the opposition as supporting what he called "deviant" LGBTQ rights. The biggest threat Erdogan faces at the moment is the economy. His primary method of attacking families' diminishing purchasing power has been to unleash government spending, which — along with lowering interest rates — only makes inflation worse, according to economists. Erdogan has increased public-sector wages, boosted pensions and allowed millions of people to retire early. He has also introduced electricity and gas subsidies and wiped out some household debt. He has also promised to spend whatever is necessary to reconstruct the vast quake-stricken areas. At each ground-breaking ceremony he attends, Erdogan says only his government can rebuild lives following the disaster that leveled cities and killed more than 50,000 in Turkey. Erdogan's party won 10 out of 11 provinces in the region affected by the quake, an area that has traditionally supported him — despite criticism that his government's initial response to the disaster was slow. Mustafa Ozturk, an Erdogan supporter in Ankara, said his standard of living has declined as a result of inflation. But the way he sees it, Turkey isn't the only country struggling with inflation since the pandemic. "It isn't Erdogan's fault," he said. Ozturk said he would never vote against Erdogan, saying he felt "indebted" to him for bringing Islam more to the forefront of society. Erdogan's message — and power — are amplified by his tight control over the media. The state-owned broadcaster TRT Haber devoted more than 48 hours of airtime to Erdogan since April 1, compared with 32 minutes given to Kilicdaroglu, according to Ilhan Tasci, a member of Turkey's radio and television watchdog. Kilicdaroglu's promise to repair the economy and uphold women's rights to wear Islamic headscarves in schools simply did not resonate in the country's conservative heartland. "Kilicdaroglu changed the image of the (opposition) party, but Erdogan controls the narrative, so there is that fear factor" among conservative women who wear Islamic-style headscarves, Tol said. "They believe that if the opposition comes to power, they will be worse off." After Turkey's pro-Kurdish party backed Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan portrayed the opposition as being supported by Kurdish "terrorists." The opposition's efforts to refute this were rarely broadcast by the mainstream media. Erdogan "meticulously crafted a run for victory that included leaning on state institutions, leaning on information control and demonizing the opposition as terrorists or (having) beliefs interpreted as insufficiently Muslim," said Soner Cagaptay an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute and an author of numerous books about Erdogan. "The media switched the debate to how Turkey has become an industrial military giant under him. And it worked," Cagaptay said. During the first round of voting on May 14, Turkey also held legislative elections, in which Erdogan's alliance of nationalist and Islamist parties won a majority in the 600-seat parliament. That gives him an additional advantage in the second round, analysts say, because many voters are likely to back him to avoid a splintered government. "The parliament is overwhelmingly with us," Erdogan said last week in an interview with CNN-Turk. "If there is a stable administration, there will be peace and prosperity in the country."
As Erdogan’s votes dip, Turkey appears headed to a runoff presidential race
Turkey’s presidential elections appeared to be heading toward a second-round runoff on Monday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled his country with a firm grip for 20 years, leading over his chief challenger, but falling short of the votes needed for an outright win. With votes of Turkish citizens living abroad still being counted, results from the state-run Anadolu news agency showed Erdogan had 49.3% of the votes, with his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu garnering 45%. Erdogan, 69, told supporters in the early hours of Monday that he could still win. He said, however, that he would respect the nation’s decision if the race went to a runoff on May 28. The vote was being closely watched to see if the strategically located NATO country — which has a coast on the Black Sea to the north, and neighbors Iran, Iraq and Syria to the south — remains under the control of the increasingly authoritarian president or can embark on a more democratic course that was envisioned by Kilicdaroglu. Also Read: Turkey Election: Runoff likely as Erdogan fails to secure majority of votes Opinion polls in the runup to Sunday’s vote had given Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, a slight lead over Erdogan, who has governed Turkey as either prime minister or president since 2003. Kilicdaroglu sounded hopeful for a second-round victory. “We will absolutely win the second round ... and bring democracy” said Kilicdaroglu, 74, maintaining that Erdogan had lost the trust of a nation now demanding change. This year’s election came amid a backdrop of economic turmoil, a cost-of-living crisis and a February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. Western nations and foreign investors are also awaiting the outcome because of Erdogan’s unorthodox leadership of the economy and often mercurial but successful efforts to put Turkey at the center of international negotiations. Also Read: Partial results in Turkey's election show President Erdogan leading, state-run news agency says As in previous years, Erdogan led a highly divisive campaign in his bid to stretch his rule into a third decade. He portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who had received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, of colluding with “terrorists” and of supporting what he called “deviant” LGBTQ rights. In a bid to woo voters hit hard by inflation, he increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey’s homegrown defense industry and infrastructure projects. Kilicdaroglu, for his part, campaigned on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding, as well as to repair an economy battered by high inflation and currency devaluation. The election results showed that Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party was also set to retain its majority in the 600-seat parliament, although the assembly has lost much of its legislative power after a referendum to change the country’s system of governance to an executive presidency narrowly passed in 2017. Anadolu news agency said Erdogan’s ruling party alliance was hovering around 49.3%, while Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance had around 35.2% and support for a pro-Kurdish party stood above 10%. “That the election results have not been finalized doesn’t change the fact that the nation has chosen us,” Erdogan said. More than 64 million people, including the overseas voters, were eligible to vote and nearly 89% voted. This year marks 100 years since Turkey’s establishment as a republic — a modern, secular state born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, despite the government suppressing freedom of expression and assembly over the years and especially since a 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan blamed the failed coup on followers of a former ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, and initiated a large-scale crackdown on civil servants with alleged links to Gulen and on pro-Kurdish politicians. Erdogan, along with the United Nations, helped mediate a deal with Ukraine and Russia that allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world from Black Sea ports despite Russia’s war in Ukraine. The agreement, which is implemented by a center based in Istanbul, is set to expire in days, and Turkey hosted talks last week to keep it alive. But Erdogan also has held up Sweden’s quest to join NATO, contending that nation has been too lenient on followers of the U.S.-based cleric and members of pro-Kurdish groups that Turkey considers national security threats. Critics maintain the president’s heavy-handed style is responsible for a painful cost-of-living crisis. The latest official statistics put inflation at about 44%, down from a high of around 86%. The price of vegetables became a campaign issue for the opposition, which used an onion as a symbol. In contrast with mainstream economic thinking, Erdogan contends that high interest rates fuel inflation, and he pressured the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey to lower its main rate multiple times. Erdogan’s government also faced criticism for its allegedly delayed and stunted response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that left 11 southern provinces devastated. Lax implementation of building codes is thought to have exacerbated the casualties and misery.
As key votes loom, Turkish parties vow to send migrants home
For Nidal Jumaa, a Syrian from Aleppo, life in Turkey is tough. He works part-time at a furniture workshop and collects plastics and cardboard from trash cans that he sells for recycling, but can hardly afford the rent for his run-down house in a low-income neighborhood of Ankara. Despite the hardship, the 31-year-old would prefer to remain in Turkey than return to Syria where he no longer has a house or a job. Most of all, he worries that his 2-year-old son, Hikmat, who requires regular medical supervision following two surgeries, wouldn't be able to receive the treatment he needs back home. “Where would we go in Syria? Everywhere is destroyed because of the war,” Jumaa said. “We can’t go back. Hikmat is sick. He can’t even walk.” Also Read: Turkey’s opposition denounces fairness of vote under Erdogan Syrians fleeing the civil war — now into its 12th year — were once welcomed in Turkey out of compassion, making the country home to the world’s largest refugee community. But as their numbers grew — and as the country began to grapple with a battered economy, including skyrocketing food and housing prices — so did calls for their return. A shortage of housing and shelters following a devastating earthquake in February revived calls for the return of Syrians, who number at least 3.7 million. The repatriation of Syrians and other migrants has become a top theme in Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections when the country will decide whether to give incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan a new mandate to rule or bring an opposition candidate to power. All three presidential hopefuls running against Erdogan have promised to send refugees back. Erdogan himself has not mentioned the migration issue on the campaign trail. However, faced with a wave of backlash against refugees, his government has been seeking ways to resettle Syrians back home. Also Read: Turkey’s Erdogan faces tough election amid quake, inflation Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of an alliance of opposition parties that includes nationalists, says he plans to repatriate Syrians on a voluntary basis within two years. If elected, he would seek European Union funds to build homes, schools, hospitals and other amenities in Syria and encourage Turkish entrepreneurs to open factories and businesses to create employment. Kilicdaroglu has also said that he would renegotiate a 2016 migration deal between Turkey and the European Union, under which the EU offered the country billions of euros in return for Ankara's cooperation in stemming the flow of refugees into European countries. “How long must we carry this heavy load?” Kilicdaroglu said in an address to ambassadors from European nations last month. “We want peace in Syria. We want our Syrian brothers and sisters who took refuge in our country to live in peace in their own country.” Sinan Ogan, a candidate backed by an anti-migrant party, says his government would consider sending Syrians back “by force if necessary.” Faced with mounting public pressure, Erdogan’s government, who long defended its open-door policy toward refugees, began constructing thousands brick homes in Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria to encourage voluntary returns. His government is also seeking reconciliation with Syrian President Bashir Assad to ensure the refugees’ safe return. The Syrian government, however, has made normalization of ties conditional on Turkey withdrawing its troops from areas under its control following a series of military incursions, and on Ankara cutting support to opposition groups. “Realistically speaking, implementing the promises (of repatriation) is much harder than restoring the (Turkish) economy,” said Omar Kadkoy, an expert on migration at the Ankara-based TEPAV think tank. “At the end of the day, if the opposition comes to power or if the government stays in power, I don’t really see how they could repatriate 3.5 million Syrians in two years.” Kadkoy continued: “Assad is so maximalist with his demands from Turkey to accept millions of people back. I don’t think Turkey is ready to meet his demands.” Around 60,000 Syrians crossed the border into northern Syria following the earthquake, after Turkey relaxed regulations allowing them to return to Syria and remain there for a maximum of six months. The move allowed refugees to check on family or homes in quake-hit areas of northern Syria. It was not immediately known how many have crossed back into Turkey, or plan to do so. Kadkoy says high inflation and a cost of living crisis have made life for Syrians in Turkey difficult. “But when compared to ... having no place to stay, no functioning democracy ... where you might be subjected to bombing and shelling at any given moment, (Syrians) prefer the bad conditions here in Turkey over having nothing in Syria,” he said. In Ankara’s impoverished Ismetpasa neighborhood, plastic sheets partially cover the roof to keep the rain out of the house where Jumaa, his wife Jawahir and their four children live. The family has no furniture and they sleep on mats they throw around a coal heater. Jawahir Jumaa says their home in Syria was destroyed in air raids. The few relatives that have remained there live in tents that are flooded in winter months. “The living conditions (here) are better than in Syria,” she said. Hikmat, her youngest son, had a cyst and a tumor removed from his head and back. “They can’t treat him in Syria. They don’t know how,” Jawahir added. Asked about the anti-migrant sentiment and calls for the repatriation of Syrians, Nidal Jumaa was fatalistic. “There is nothing we can do, for now we are carrying on living. We are under the mercy of God,” he responded. The neighborhood is close to an area where riots broke out two years ago after a Turkish teenager was stabbed to death in a fight with a group of young Syrians. Hundreds of people chanting anti-immigrant slogans took to the streets, vandalized Syrian-run shops and hurled rocks at refugees’ homes. Hassan Hassan, a neighbor, says he isn’t concerned about the violence that erupted or about the calls for Syrians to leave. “I’m not afraid, we suffered too many terrible things, what could happen that is worse than what we (have already) lived through?” he asked.
Turkey’s opposition denounces fairness of vote under Erdogan
As Turkey heads for presidential and parliamentary elections at the weekend that are shaping up to be the strongest challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his 20 years as leader, complaints are growing about the fairness of the vote. Turkey’s opposition has long said that the country’s elections are played out on an unlevel playing field, claims often backed by international observers. Media coverage stands out as the most obvious example of where Erdogan enjoys an advantage over his opponents, but factors such as the use of state resources while campaigning and the questionable interpretation of electoral law also feature. Also Read: Turkey’s Erdogan faces tough election amid quake, inflation Some 90% of Turkey’s media is in the hands of the government or its backers, according to Reporters Without Borders, ensuring overwhelming airtime for the president. Only a handful of opposition newspapers remain in print, most having transitioned to online-only editions. During April, Erdogan received nearly 33 hours of airtime on the main state-run TV station, according to opposition members of the broadcasting watchdog. His presidential opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, received 32 minutes. The main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, last month launched legal action against broadcaster TRT for failing to screen its campaign video. “Unfortunately, the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation has moved away from being an impartial and objective institution and has turned into the Tayyip Radio and Television Corporation,” CHP lawmaker Tuncay Ozkan said. The remaining independent media also face increasing restrictions. Last month, broadcasting authority RTUK fined independent channels Fox News, Halk TV and TELE1 over news and commentary deemed a breach of regulations. Ilhan Tasci, an opposition-appointed RTUK member, said in all three cases the stations had been accused of criticizing or questioning ruling-party actions. Also Read: Erdogan hints Turkey may ratify Finland's NATO membership In a statement following the last presidential and general elections in 2018, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe noted that Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) enjoyed “an undue advantage, including in excessive coverage by government-affiliated public and private media outlets.” The government’s reach has also been extended over social media, where many opposition voices have retreated. A “disinformation” law introduced in October allows a jail sentence of up to three years for spreading false information “with the sole aim of creating anxiety, fear or panic among the public.” Sinan Aygul, the only journalist to be prosecuted under the new law, was handed a 10-month prison term in February. He is currently free while appealing the case. “The real aim is to silence all dissident voices in society,” said Aygul, chair of the journalists association in Bitlis, southeastern Turkey. It is “a law that targets anyone who expresses an opinion. It targets not only individuals but also media organs,” he said. The ill-defined law creates crimes from “basic journalistic activities,” Aygul said, adding that it could be used during the elections to target groups seeking to protect ballot box security who use social media to highlight abuses. “If there is going to be fraud in the election, all opposition channels will be silenced by using this law,” he said. The imposition of a state of emergency over the 11 provinces hit by February’s earthquake has also raised concerns about how the polls will be conducted in the region. A U.N. report published April 11 said at least 3 million people had relocated from their homes in the quake zone, many of them heading to other parts of Turkey. However, just 133,000 people from the earthquake region have registered to vote outside their home provinces, the head of the Supreme Election Council said last month. Ahmet Yener added that election officials are overseeing preparations, including polling stations at temporary shelters. In 2018, a nationwide state of emergency imposed following a 2016 coup attempt was in place until shortly before the election, which the OSCE said restricted the media and freedoms of assembly and expression. Erdogan has stepped up his public appearances, which are closely followed by most TV channels, and uses these official duties to attack his rivals. Attending a ceremony on the Friday of Eid al-Fitr last month to mark renovations to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, he accused the opposition of “working with terrorist groups.” The previous evening, the leaders of four political parties allied to the AKP were present for an event to launch the delivery of Black Sea natural gas, despite none holding any government position. Other large projects that were rolled out ahead of the vote include Turkey’s first nuclear power reactor built by Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear energy company, and several defense developments. Critics also point to the bending of election law to allow government ministers to stand as parliamentary candidates while remaining in office, despite legal requirements to the contrary. The election board, meanwhile, has previously faced criticism for siding with AKP objections during elections. In the 2019 local polls, the victorious opposition mayoral candidate for Istanbul was forced to face a rerun following AKP complaints of ballot irregularities. Results from district and city council votes, which were collected in the same boxes and favored the AKP, were not questioned. Adem Sozuer of Istanbul University’s law faculty told the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper that voters had lost confidence in the election authorities. “There is widespread suspicion in a significant part of society that elections will be rigged,” he said.
Turkey’s Erdogan faces tough election amid quake, inflation
Early in his political career, a devastating earthquake and economic troubles helped propel Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power in Turkey. Two decades later, similar circumstances are putting his leadership at risk. The highly divisive and populist Erdogan is seeking a third consecutive term as president on May 14, after three stints as prime minister, which would extend his rule into a third decade. He already is Turkey’s longest-serving leader. The presidential and parliamentary elections could be the most challenging yet for the 69-year-old Erdogan. Most opinion polls point to a slight lead by his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads the secular, center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP. The outcome of the presidential race could well be determined in a runoff vote May 28. Erdogan is facing a tough test in this election because of public outrage over rising inflation and his handling of the Feb. 6 earthquake in southern Turkey that killed over 50,000 people, leveled cities and left millions without homes. His political adversaries say the government was slow to respond and that its failure to enforce building codes is to blame for the high death toll. Some even point to government malfeasance after a 1999 earthquake in northwestern Turkey near the city of Izmit that killed about 18,000 people, saying that taxes imposed from that disaster were misspent and worsened the effects of this year's quake. Also Read: Erdogan hints Turkey may ratify Finland's NATO membership The political party founded by Erdogan in 2001 came to power amid an economic crisis and the Izmit quake. His Justice and Development Party, or AKP, capitalized on public anger over government mishandling of the disaster, and Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 and has never relinquished leadership of the country. Still, even with resentment directed toward Erdogan over his handling of the February quake and the economy, analysts caution against underestimating him, pointing to his enduring appeal among working- and middle-class religious voters who had long felt alienated by Turkey's former secular and Western-leaning elites. Erdogan's nationalist policies, often confrontational stance against the West and moves that have raised Islam's profile in the country continue to resonate among conservative supporters. They point to an economic boom in the first half of his rule that lifted many people out of poverty, adding that his past successes are proof of his ability to turn things around. “There is an economic crisis in Turkey, we can’t deny it. And yes, this economic crisis has had a huge impact on us,” said Sabit Celik, a 38-year-old shop owner selling cleaning products in Istanbul. “But still, I don’t think anyone else (but Erdogan) can come and fix this.” “I think our salvation is through the (ruling party) again,” he said. Many also point to major infrastructure projects begun during his tenure — highways, bridges, airports, hospitals, and low-income housing. Erdogan himself has conceded that there were shortcomings in the early days of the February earthquake but insisted the situation was quickly brought under control. Since then, he has focused his reelection campaign on reconstructing quake-stricken areas, promising to build 319,000 homes within the year. At rally after rally, he has touted past projects as proof that only his government can restore the region. Erdogan has announced a series of spending measures to bring temporary relief to those hardest-hit by inflation, including raising minimum wages and pensions, enacting measures to allow some people to take early retirement, and providing assistance to consumers for electricity and natural gas. He also has focused on the defense sector, boosting production of drones and fighter jets and building an amphibious landing vessel that the government describes as “the world’s first drone carrier.” “While we were a country that could not even produce pins, an unmanned aerial plane flew above our skies the other day,” said Mustafa Agaoglu, another Erdogan supporter in Istanbul. “We now have our warships, our aircraft carriers, our roads, our bridges, our city hospitals.” Erdogan has timed a host of openings to coincide with the election campaign. Last month, he presided at a ceremony marking the delivery of natural gas from recently discovered Black Sea reserves, offering free gas to households for a month. This week, he announced the discovery of a new oil reserve in the country's southeast, with a capacity of 100,000 barrels per day. When he suffered a brief intestinal illness that sidelined him for a few days, he took part via video in an event marking the delivery of fuel to Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Then, on Sunday, he said Turkey’s intelligence teams had killed the leader of the Islamic State group in a special operation in northern Syria — an announcement that seemed designed to bolster his image as a strong leader. In the upcoming election, six parties have united behind his main opponent, Kilicdaroglu, despite their disparate political views. The coalition, known as the Nation Alliance, has vowed to reverse the democratic backsliding and crackdowns on free speech and dissent under Erdogan, seeking to scrap the powerful presidential system he introduced that concentrates vast authority in his hands. As in previous years, Erdogan has waged a bitter campaign, lashing out at Kilicdaroglu and other opponents. He accused them of colluding with what he calls terrorists. This year, he has also tried to disparage the opposition by saying it supported “deviant” LGBTQ+ rights that he says threaten Turkey's “sacred family structure.” On Monday, he portrayed the election as a “choice between two futures.” “Either we will elect those who take care of the family institution, which is the main pillar of society, or those who have the support of deviant minds that are hostile to the family,” Erdogan said. He has expanded his alliance with two nationalist parties to include two small Islamist parties that call for amendments to a law protecting women against violence, arguing it encourages divorce. Opposition parties again are complaining of an uneven playing field during the campaign, accusing Erdogan of using state resources as well as his government's overwhelming control over the media. Some also are questioning whether Erdogan would agree to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose. In 2019, Erdogan challenged the results of a local election in Istanbul after his ruling party lost the mayoral seat there, only to suffer an even more embarrassing defeat in a second balloting.
Moscow hosts more Turkey-Syria rapprochement talks
Russia's defense minister on Tuesday hosted his counterparts from Iran, Syria and Turkey for talks that were part of the Kremlin's efforts to help broker a rapprochement between the Turkish and Syrian governments. The Russian Defense Ministry said the talks focused on “practical steps to strengthen security in the Syrian Arab Republic and to normalize Syrian-Turkish relations.” Moscow has waged a military campaign in Syria since September 2015, teaming up with Iran to allow Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government to reclaim control over most of the country while Turkey has backed armed opposition to Assad throughout the 12-year conflict. While the bulk of Russia's armed forces have been busy fighting in Ukraine, Moscow has maintained its military presence in Syria and has also made persistent efforts to help Assad rebuild fractured ties with Turkey and other countries in the region following the civil war that has killed nearly 500,000 people and displaced half of the country’s prewar population. Also Read: Sweden expels 5 Russian Embassy staff on suspicion of spying In December, Moscow hosted a surprise meeting of the Turkish and Syrian defense ministers, the first such encounter since Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war began in 2011. And earlier this month, senior diplomats from Russia, Turkey, Syria and Iran met in Moscow for two days of talks intended to set the stage for a meeting of the four countries' foreign ministers. The efforts toward a Turkish-Syrian reconciliation come as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under intense pressure at home to send Syrian refugees back amid a steep economic downturn and an increasing anti-refugee sentiment. He faces presidential and parliamentary elections in May. The Russian Defense Ministry said in its readout of Tuesday’s talks that the parties "reaffirmed their adherence to the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity and the need to step up efforts to allow a speedy return of Syrian refugees.” Also Read: UN chief, representatives of the West berate Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov over Ukraine war The Turkish Defense Ministry issued a similarly worded statement, noting that the four ministers discussed the issue of strengthening security in Syria, the concrete steps that can be taken to normalize ties between Turkey and Syria, the fight against terrorist and extremist groups on the Syrian territory and efforts for the return of Syrian refugees. The statement said the sides also emphasized the importance of the continuation of the four-party meetings “to ensure and maintain stability in Syria and the region as a whole.” On Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also hosted Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and his counterparts from Syria and Iran for separate bilateral talks. Turkey has de facto control over large swathes of northwestern Syria, and Assad's government has described the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territory is a prerequisite for a normalization of ties. But even as Turkey has supported Syrian opposition fighters in the north, Ankara and Damascus are equally dismayed over the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria’s northeast. Turkey-backed opposition fighters have clashed with the SDF in the past, accusing them of being an arm of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. The PKK has for decades waged an insurgency within Turkey. Assad’s government has cast the SDF as a secessionist force that has been pilfering the country’s wealth while controlling Syria’s major oil fields. The Russian Defense Ministry noted that during Tuesday's talks “special attention was given to countering terror threats and fighting all groups of extremists on Syrian territory.”
Turkey: 110 detained over suspected Kurdish militant links
Police in Turkey carried out raids on homes in 21 provinces on Tuesday, detaining some 110 people for alleged links to Kurdish militants, the country’s state-run news agency reported. The raids, which come weeks ahead of Turkey’s May 14 parliamentary and presidential elections, targeted politicians, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists, Tayip Temel, a deputy leader of the country’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, wrote on Twitter. “On the eve of the election, the government has resorted once again to detentions out of fear of losing power,” Temel tweeted. Also Read: Erdogan hints Turkey may ratify Finland's NATO membership The detained are suspected of financing the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, of recruiting members or of engaging in propaganda on behalf of the group, Anadolu Agency reported. The group, which has led a decades-long insurgency in Turkey, is considered a terror organization by the United States and the European Union. The pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya agency reported that one of its editors and a journalist were among those detained. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking a third presidential term, faces the toughest electoral test of his 20-year rule. Opinion polls have given a united opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a slight lead over the strongman politician. The HDP has extended its tacit support to Kilicdaroglu by deciding not to field its own candidate in the presidential race.