Erdogan’s party battles for major cities in Turkey local polls

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party, AKP, during a rally in Adiyaman, Turkey, on March 26, 2019, ahead of local elections scheduled for March 31, 2019. (AP)
Updated 28 March 2019

Erdogan’s party battles for major cities in Turkey local polls

  • Opposition parties hope economic woes may translate into a victory against Erdogan
  • Erdogan’s party has won every vote since first coming to power in 2002

ISTANBUL: To hear President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the campaign trail, Turkey’s municipal elections on Sunday may be a fight for survival against foreign and domestic enemies trying to destroy the country.

For many Turks, it may be more about the family finances.

No one expects a major defeat for Erdogan’s AKP. But with Turkey’s economy in recession and inflation in double digits, the ruling party faces a tough battle to capture key cities like Istanbul and the capital Ankara. Sunday’s vote — for 30 major cities, 51 provincial municipalities and district councils — will be a barometer on how well the AKP is faring after building its ballot box success on Turkey’s growth under Erdogan.

The Turkish leader has campaigned hard for AKP, despite not running himself, often speaking more than three times a day and rolling out heavyweight candidates like former premier Binali Yildirim for Istanbul mayor.

Opposition parties hope economic woes may translate into a victory against Erdogan in key municipalities such as Istanbul and Ankara where polls show a tight race.

“Losing either city now would be a huge symbolic blow to his power in Turkey,” said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “He has gone for a strategy of pulling out all the stops.”

Erdogan’s party has won every vote since first coming to power in 2002. The next presidential and legislative elections will be in 2023.

After a currency crisis last year partly over US sanctions, Turkey’s economy slipped into recession for the first time since 2009. 

Just weeks before the vote, Erdogan last month ordered city authorities in Istanbul and Ankara to open their own vegetable and food stalls to sell produce at discount prices. Erdogan has sometimes appeared on the defensive over the economy, even arguing long lines forming at the municipal food stalls were a sign of “prosperity,” when the opposition portrayed them as a mark of “poverty.”

Rather than campaigning on the economy or local issues, Erdogan has more often made the vote about Turkey’s national security and survival against enemies looking to undermine the AKP’s progress.

In a patriotic appeal to his electoral base — often more religiously conservative Turks — Erdogan has shown videos trying to associate the main opposition CHP party as linked to PKK Kurdish militants. After the attack on Muslims at two New Zealand mosques, Erdogan played clips of a video made by the gunman at his rallies.

The move, an attempt to tarnish one of Turkey’s main secular opposition leaders, drew international opprobrium. “These elections are not just municipal elections; this is a vote for our survival,” Erdogan said at a rally this week in Mus in eastern Turkey.

Facing the AKP electoral powerhouse, major opposition parties have changed strategy to present common candidates in several cities, including Istanbul and Ankara, in an effort to not split the anti-Erdogan vote.

Main opposition party CHP and smaller nationalist group Iyi party, are supporting the same candidate in Turkey’s two major cities.

The pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party, weakened by the arrests of some of its lawmakers and leader on terrorism charges, has focused its efforts in the Kurdish majority southeast of Turkey.

Erdogan has presented the HDP as linked with the PKK militants, who are listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and its Western allies.

He has threatened to replace mayor posts won by pro-Kurdish parties with state-appointed trustees, a move previously carried out by the government, which was denounced by rights groups for undermining the rule of law.

Faced with Erdogan’s pressure, the HDP, which won six million votes in the last legislative election in 2018, has urged supporters to vote against the AKP in major western cities where Kurdish voters could make a difference.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”