The World Today for June 14, 2018

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The Bigger They Are…

The former mayor of Istanbul, longtime prime minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey faces his first real electoral test since elements of his military launched a failed coup against him in 2016.

And when voters go the polls on June 24 to re-elect or reject him and his political allies in parliament, they are really voting on the direction he’s taken the country: Early economic success, grandiose infrastructure projects, a whittling away of the secularism that’s guaranteed by law and a descent into authoritarianism, observers say.

Smart gamblers would say Erdogan will win, given his remarkable tenure in Turkish politics. He’s earned a place as the second-most important leader in his country’s history since Kemal Ataturk created the republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. Today, Erdogan has also become a symbol of the club of elected strongmen, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who have ridden a tide of nationalism in recent years.

But now he could be in trouble.

Since the attempted coup – which the president blames on the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen – Erdogan has consolidated power, arresting or detaining more than 100,000 people and shutting down schools, newspapers and other media and institutions.

“The state of emergency has allowed President Erdogan to head the cabinet and rule the country by decree, with weakened parliamentary and judicial oversight,” a Human Rights Watch report said. “Under the state of emergency, the government can place broad restrictions on the right to organize public assemblies and protests.”

Those provisions aren’t supposed to apply to political organizations, but one might be understandably skeptical about whether government officials enforced that rule, the New York Times suggested.

The atmosphere has given investors jitters, which is already lowering the value of the country’s currency, hurting the economy and complicating Erdogan’s re-election bid.

“After a run that brought in more than $220 billion of foreign investment, tripled gross domestic product, and returned inflation to single digits, Turkey’s economy is again ailing – its democracy even more so,” Bloomberg wrote.

Some of those concerns have trickled down to regular folks.

The BBC reported that former interior minister Meral Aksener – nicknamed the “she-wolf” – is running much stronger in recent weeks than when elections were called in April. She’s put forward a secular campaign platform in contrast to Erdogan’s pro-Islamic bent and vowed to sell the pro-Erdogan state-owned media and give the proceeds to citizens.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast was sanguine about main opposition party candidate Muharrem Ince, who now leads a motivated base of Turks who want to topple Erdogan and his party’s monopoly on power.

When the president called the snap elections, “many people thought he’d steamroll his opponents,” the online magazine wrote. “But they’ve drawn together, and he just might lose.”

Nothing else could determine whether a leader’s power is absolute, so absolutely.



While You Were Sleeping

The Saudi-led coalition fighting to oust the Iran-backed Houthi rebels from Yemen launched what promises to be the biggest battle yet in a civil war that has raged since 2014 – overshadowed by the conflict in nearby Syria.

After the rebels ignored an ultimatum demanding they withdraw from the port city of Hudaydah, the Saudi-led forces carried out some 18 air strikes on Houthi positions on the outskirts of the city Wednesday, the BBC reported.

The reported death toll is low so far, but fears remain that the offensive could result in mass casualties among Hudaydah’s 400,000 residents and exacerbate the risk of starvation for some eight million people. The Saudi and United Arab Emirates forces went ahead with the attack despite pleas from the United Nations and various humanitarian organizations that they allow more time for a diplomatic solution, noted the Washington Post.

The US president’s “passive assent” means America will be complicit if the dire predictions of starvation and untold suffering come to fruition, the paper opined.


Merrily, Merrily, Merrily

The ruling Georgian Dream party has seven days to nominate a replacement premier following the resignation of Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili on Wednesday.

Kvirikashvili – who has been prime minister since 2015 resigned over conflicts with party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, Al-Jazeera reported. Kvirikashvili has faced mass protests and growing discontent over his economic policies in recent months.

“We have had a number of fundamental disagreements with the party’s leader over the past months,” Kvirikashvili said.

Notably, Ivanishvili, the billionaire tycoon who founded the Georgian Dream party, announced his return to politics in May and was elected party chairman, the New York Times said. While he stepped aside to allow longtime business associate, Irakli Garibashvili, to replace him as prime minister in 2013, Ivanishvili is widely believed to control Georgian politics from behind the scenes – not least because his fortune is estimated at about a third of the country’s gross domestic product.

In January, the Economist said observers were optimistic about Georgia’s new, pragmatic approach in balancing Russia and Europe, but also noted concerns Georgian Dream, and Ivanishvili, were stifling opposition.


I Know You Are But What Am I?

The frontrunner in Mexico’s presidential race dismissed a rival candidate’s allegations of corruption associated with the award of government contracts to a construction mogul when he was Mexico City mayor.

During a presidential debate on Tuesday, candidate Ricardo Anaya, who heads a right-left coalition, claimed that leftist frontrunner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador awarded contracts worth some $8 million to builder Jose Maria Rioboo without a competitive bidding process, Reuters reported.

Denying any wrongdoing, Lopez Obrador said, “No I am not corrupt … I am not corrupt like you,” and noted that the contracts, related to an elevated highway built around part of Mexico City, were audited several times.

Lopez Obrador enjoys a double-digit lead in most polls as the July 1 vote approaches, and seems to have weathered the tit-for-tat mudslinging, Bloomberg cited the director of a local think tank as saying. “AMLO seems to be made of Teflon,” said Valeria Moy, director of the think tank “Mexico, Como Vamos”.


Fever Pitch

Today, soccer fans around the globe will be glued to their seats to watch the start of this year’s World Cup tournament in Russia.

It’s an especially important event for Brazilians. Brazil may have suffered a 7-1 defeat by Germany in 2014’s tournament, but Brazilian electronic manufacturers and retailers stand to make huge profits from this year’s contest, Reuters reported.

“We’re seeing sales get stronger week after week as we get closer to the Cup,” Fabio Gabaldo, commercial director of one Brazilian appliance chain, told the news agency.

Production by manufacturers such as LG Corp and Panasonic Corp have risen 25 percent by some measures, while many stores and retailers are coming up with ingenious ideas to sell TV sets – like offering discounts for those trading in their old sets, playing on consumers’ superstitions.

“Are you really going to watch Brazil on the same TV as the 7-1 match?” an ad from a local chain asked.

Brazil isn’t the only country consumed with soccer fever.

In neighboring Peru, first-quarter TV sales jumped 25 percent compared to last year – though legislators landed in hot water recently for planning to purchase 60 televisions and several mini-fridges, which they denied had anything to do with the World Cup.

But there’s reason to bend the rules in Peru, considering that it’s the country’s first appearance in the tournament in 36 years.

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