The World Today for April 17, 2017


A New Turkey

Elections are supposed to decide issues.

The vote in Turkey on Sunday has almost certainly not done that.

By a narrow but definitive margin, Turkish voters opted to grant new sweeping powers to their president, abolishing the office of the prime minister and turning Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s formerly ceremonial position into a full-fledged executive one resembling the presidency of the US and France.

“RIP Turkey 1921-2017,” read the headline in Foreign Policy. The magazine argued that the vote ended the modern, secular Turkey established on the ruins on the Ottoman Empire. Instead, Erdogan will now preside like a sultan over the Turkish state. Coupled with his Islamist leanings, his new power should raise concerns about the already shaky future of civil rights in a country that is an important US and European ally, the article suggested.

Erdogan has already earned the mantle of an authoritarian. Turkish authorities have detained 47,000 people and fired or suspended 120,000 people from their jobs for allegedly sympathizing with the failed coup attempt against his regime last summer, Reuters reported.

The vote would let Erdogan fill thousands of judgeships that have been emptied due their former occupants’ alleged associations with Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric now in exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan had allowed Gulen to fill those seats but “all hell broke loose” when the two men had a falling out, the Economist reported.

Bloomberg quoted an analyst as describing the vote as “a blow to the assumption that liberal or even in some cases hybrid democracies are structured to prevent authoritarian figures from hijacking the political system.”

Many Turks aren’t accepting the changes lying down.

Opposition groups are already demanding recounts, claiming that voter fraud was widespread, the New York Times wrote.

The road ahead is long and fraught. Most of the changes won’t go into effect until 2019, meaning there’s plenty of time for political surprises to complicate the situation.

After the referendum, Turkey is more divided than ever, wrote scholar Simon Waldman in the Globe and Mail.

Waldman noted that the ballot had no question – just a box to tick “yes” or “no” – meaning it was easy to manipulate perceptions of the referendum. Government officials used public money for the “yes” campaign. Public broadcasters and most other media outlets towed the “yes” line. Under the state of emergency that has been in effect since the July coup, officials in Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party could shut down “no” rallies on a whim.

Yet the naysayers won in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir – the country’s three major cities.

Erdogan appears to have gotten his wish. He’s slated to become the supreme leader of Turkey. But of what kind of Turkey is not yet clear.


Bad Boys

Authorities in Guatemala nabbed a former Mexican governor who has been on the run from the police for more than five months, striking a blow against the corrupt nexus between politicians and drug traffickers.

Javier Duarte, the former governor of Veracruz who is wanted on charges of graft and organized crime, was captured on Saturday in a hotel lobby in Panajachel, 80 miles west of Guatemala’s capital, Reuters reported. He’s now awaiting extradition.

Duarte, who maintains his innocence, has come to symbolize corruption in Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Under his watch, crime spiked in Veracruz, culminating in the discovery of mass graves and a spate of killings of journalists.

The Mexican authorities say he used ghost companies to transfer and hide public funds potentially amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. Duarte disappeared in October after he resigned saying he would face the graft allegations. During his truncated six-year term as governor, 17 journalists were murdered, and recently a mass grave containing more than 250 human skulls was found in Veracruz.

The Bounce

China’s economy accelerated for a second-straight quarter, starting the year off with strong growth for the first time in several years.

China’s gross domestic product rose 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, Bloomberg reported. That’s a couple ticks higher than the 6.7 percent growth notched for the year in 2016 – which was the slowest pace in 26 years for the economic powerhouse.

The biggest factors were property sales and investment but the portion of GDP from domestic consumption increased to 77 percent from 65 percent last year – a potentially important signal, though it’s wise to take China’s official economic data with a grain of salt.

Given the importance of China’s boom to the rest of the world – a slowdown in demand from China has wreaked havoc in the commodities-driven economies of Latin America – the bounce is welcome. But skeptics note that China’s debt is now worth more than 250% of GDP and looks set to grow.

Belated Mercy

An Egyptian court acquitted a US citizen and seven other activists who had been detained for nearly three years on human trafficking charges that their supporters say were cooked up as part of a government crackdown on NGOs.

Before her acquittal on Easter Sunday, Egyptian-American Aya Hijazi, who founded an NGO called Belady that works on behalf of street children, had been held in custody for 33 months, though Egyptian law sets a maximum of 24 months for pretrial detention, Reuters reported.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has cracked down on opposition supporters and liberal and secular activists since taking power in a 2013 coup. But in 2011, too, authorities had raided 17 pro-democracy and rights groups, accusing them of joining a foreign conspiracy against Egypt.

Hijazi and her husband, Belady co-founder Mohamed Hassanein, were arrested in May 2014. US President Donald Trump likely pushed for their release in a meeting with Sisi in Washington two weeks ago.


Social Media’s Saddest Folks

Facebook’s user base of more than 1 billion people worldwide provides nearly limitless opportunities for social connection.

But too much time spent online could negatively affect your mental health, according to a study published recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Scientists took a sample of more than 5,000 Facebook users and compared their experience on the social network over three years’ time with self-reports on their mental health.

They ultimately concluded that the more often you update your status or “like” your friends’ posts, the sadder you’ll feel in the long run.

That’s the exact opposite conclusion of past research about real-world social interactions, the authors wrote in a summary of their findings for the Harvard Business Review.

Normally, interacting with others will boost your spirits. But the isolation of social media and individuals’ tendencies to compare themselves with others online tend to have the opposite effect, depending on your level of use.

What’s more is that the negative effects of Facebook seem to be more pronounced than the positive effects of real-world social interaction: There’s a clear tradeoff between online and offline interaction.

In short: everything in moderation, especially when it comes to social media.

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