- Thailand held its first election since its most recent military coup in 2014.
- The Pheu Thai Party won the most seats in the lower house of Parliament, while the PPRP won the popular vote, but both have declared themselves victorious.
- Several individuals and organizations have accused the military-backed Election Commission of fraudulent behavior.
How Does Thailand’s Election Work?
Preliminary election results were released in Thailand, resulting in two parties declaring victory, and claiming the right to form a coalition with other parties in the government.
Sunday’s elections were the first since the most recent coup by the military junta in 2014, the twelfth of which since the 1930’s. It is also the first under the country’s new constitution, unveiled in 2017, which was criticized for being made to keep the military party, Palang Pracharath (PPRP), in power.
In Thailand, people don’t vote for the Prime Minister directly. They vote for a section of the parliament seats.
Parliament has 750 seats in total. Of those seats, 500 are elected, and make up the lower house. Then of those 500, 350 come from direct votes. The remaining 150 are chosen by proportional party lists.
The other 250 seats are part of the upper house, which are appointed by the military. The two houses then vote for the Prime Minister.
376 votes are needed to elect a prime minister, and assuming the military-appointed members vote for the PPRP candidate, the party already has 250 locked votes. Which means they only need 126 out of the 500 seats in the lower house to elect a Prime Minister, making it difficult for another party to rise to power.
The PPRP is currently in power right now, with Prayuth Chan-ocha as Prime Minister. There are several political parties in Thailand, but the Phue Thai is the other large one, and was the party ousted back in 2014. Two of its most recent leaders, siblings Thaksin Shinawatra and Yingluck Shinawatra, are currently in a self-imposed exile, as they face charges in Thailand on abuse of power. The Pheu Thai candidate for Prime Minister is Thaskin ally Sudarat Keyuraphan.
Who Won the Election?
Election results were delayed several times by the Election Commission of Thailand. The EC was initially supposed to release preliminary results Sunday night, but delayed until Monday afternoon. They also only released the 350 directly-elected seats, and will not release the other 150 until Friday. An official count will be released in May.
Currently, the Pheu Thai party has 137 seats, while the PPRP got 97. The Bhumjaithai party, which aligns with neither, came in third place with 39. The Democratic party, which has only said it does not align with Pheu Thai, collected 33 seats. A new party, Future Forward, which primarily attracted younger voters and leans anti-military, got 30 seats.
However, both the Pheu Thai and PPRP are declaring victory. While Pheu Thai has more seats, PPRP won more popular votes. Both parties claim that they have the right to form coalitions with other parties in the government to take a majority.
Pheu Thai says they are already doing this, and projects that they will hold command of the lower house.
“Parties in the democratic front gained the most trust from the people,” Sudarat Keyuraphan said in a press conference. “Although right now numbers are still moving, we’re certain we will have at least 255 seats among ourselves. We declare that the democratic front who opposes military rule commands the majority in the House.”
The 255 seats is not enough for them to elect a Prime Minister, so the PPRP would still likely get to control that. However, having a stronghold in the lower house does it make it more difficult for the party to govern.
Accusations Against the Election Commission
The EC, which is appointed by the military, is also facing accusations of election fraud. The Asian Network for Free elections released a statement calling the tabulation process “deeply flawed.” They also claimed there were 1.9 million invalid ballots.
Thaskin Shinawatra wrote an op-ed in the New York Times titled The Election in Thailand Was Rigged.
“In some areas, the number of ballots seemed to exceed the number of voters,” he wrote. “In others, voter turnout was reported to be 200 percent…There also were reports that some ballots, although marked improperly, were counted as votes for Palang Pracharat, the military’s proxy party.”
Other issues in the election included counting ballots from abroad. The EC confirmed that over 1,500 ballots from New Zealand will not count because they were not delivered in time. A former leader of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, Tida Tawornset, is demanding a recount. Tawronset says that volunteers at polling places saw people turned away, and other concerning behavior from election workers.
The EC defends their vote count, and says any inconsistencies in the reports were the media’s fault.
“It’s the media organisations themselves which applied the data and presented it in graphics,” the commission’s Deputy Secretary-General told reporters. “If you noticed last night, each channel reported the data differently and that depends on each outlet’s ability.”
See What Others Are Saying: (Bangkok Post) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)
Opposition Party Wins Mayoral Race in Istanbul in Massive Blow to Erdogan
- Former Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim conceded to opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu in a re-run election for mayor of Istanbul Sunday.
- Yildirim had been championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his defeat comes as a stunning blow to the president, who many believe is losing his extensive grip on power in the country.
- Imamoglu had previously won the same election back in March by a slim margin of 13,000 votes, but Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) called for a re-run, citing voting irregularities.
- Imamoglu won Sunday’s election by more than 800,000 votes, representing a dramatic political shift in Turkey’s largest city, which has been under AKP control for 25 years.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suffered what experts are calling his biggest political defeat ever Sunday when his candidate for the mayor of Istanbul conceded a highly anticipated re-run election.
Binali Yildirim, a former prime minister and close ally of Erdogan formally conceded the election late Sunday after polls showed that opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu received 54 percent of the vote.
“As of now, my competitor Imamoglu is leading,” Yildirim said in a televised concession speech. “I congratulate him, wish him success. I wish our friend Ekrem Imamoglu will bring good services to Istanbul.”
Imamoglu celebrated his win during a news conference last night, telling reporters, “16 million Istanbul residents refreshed our belief in democracy and confidence in justice.”
“I am ready to work with you in harmony,” he continued. “I put myself up for that, and I announce this in front of all Istanbul people.”
Erdogan, for his part, congratulated Imamoglu on Twitter, adding that he wished the election result “will be beneficial for our Istanbul.”
While Imamoglu’s win represents a decisive and landmark victory, it is technically not the first time he has won the election for mayor of Istanbul.
He first was elected mayor of Istanbul on March 31, by a small margin of around 13,000 votes. However, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, or AKP, contested the results, claiming that votes had been stolen and voting officials had not been legally approved.
Turkey’s High Election Council responded by annulling the election and ordering a do-over in a rare move that greatly angered the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
The CHP condemned the move, arguing that it undermined the democratic foundations of Turkey and that it was clearly just a power move by the AKP to try to maintain their foothold in Istanbul.
The CHP also claimed that the High Election Council’s members were beholden to the AKP for their jobs and so they could be easily manipulated.
However, holding the election again appears to have backfired on Erdogan and the AKP. Imamoglu won Sunday’s election by over 800,000 votes, a huge victory compared to the 13,000 he got last time.
Additionally, voter turnout even went up one percentage point from the March election.
Erdogan’s Decreasing Power
The increased voter turnout and the massive support for the opposition party are hugely significant because the AKP has held power in Istanbul for 25 years.
Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city and its main commercial hub, which alone makes the election a big defeat for the AKP on a populous level. It is also a massive blow to Erdogan personally because he is from Istanbul and considers it his political base
Erdogan even started his political career there, serving as the mayor himself. Now, experts are saying that this could be a sign that his long-running grip on power is weakening.
Erdogan has been the ruler of Turkey since 2003, first serving as prime minister and then as president. He has largely been perceived as an invincible strongman and has been considered by many to be Turkey’s most dominant politician since its founder almost a century ago.
During his rule, Erdogan has significantly expanded his authoritarian reach by strengthening his own powers under Turkey’s Constitution. He has also consolidated his power by jailing journalists, isolating opponents, and purging Turkey’s police, the military, and courts.
Despite all of that, Erdogan has largely been popular. His party has a lot of support among religious and conservative populations, and under his rule, Turkey’s economy has grown significantly.
However, recently, Turkey has been experiencing an economic recession and a financial crisis. This has shaken Erdogan’s support significantly, along with that fact that some voters are concerned about his efforts to increase his control over the government.
In fact, Istanbul is not the only place where Erdogan and his party are losing power. The AKP had a poor showing in many parts of Turkey in the March election.
Notably, the party also lost to the opposition in Ankara, the capital of Turkey and its second biggest city.
The recent loss in Istanbul really cannot be understated. Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city by far, with a population of more than 15 million people, which is basically triple Ankara’s 5.4 million.
With the opposition also in control of Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, Turkey’s three largest cities are now fully in the hands of opposition parties. As a result, analysts and experts say this will likely usher in a new chapter in Turkish politics.
Some members of the AKP could splinter off and even form new parties. Others who previously had supported Erdogan or had been allies could run against him in 2023.
Additionally, the election in Istanbul could trigger a cabinet reshuffle in the capital, as well as a shift in Turkey’s foreign policy.
Regarding foreign policy, the election also comes amid tense relations between Erdogan and the U.S.
The Donald Trump administration objected to Turkey re-doing the Istanbul election, arguing that it disrupted important negotiations on Syria and other issues. The U.S. has also objected to Turkey’s plans to install Russian missile systems, over which the U.S. has even threatened sanctions.
Turkey’s close economic ties with Iran are also not doing them any favors in the eyes of the Trump administration.
Erdogan is set to meet with Trump at the Group of 20 summit meeting this week. Already, Erdogan is trying to shift the focus of the election, outlining his upcoming diplomatic trips.
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, tens of thousands of people celebrated Imamoglu’s win. Fireworks were set off, and the streets of Istanbul were packed with his supporters waving national flags and hanging out of car windows. Street parties continued on into of Monday morning.
Many believe the election has re-invigorated the young people in Istanbul. One university student told BCC, “Many young people desperately want to leave Turkey, but now, we might consider staying here. We are hopeful once again.”
However, there are others who are not happy with the outcome of the election. Another student told Al Jazeera that Imamoglu was less qualified than his opponent. “People just voted for the promises […] Because they appeal to them,” the student said. “But I don’t think they’ll be able to get what they want from Imamoglu.”
Additionally, throughout the whole election, Turkey’s state-run media outlets have been openly against Imamoglu, and have been quick to attack him while also reporting favorable news about his opponent.
Regardless, many think this is the beginning of the end for Erdogan, who himself once said, “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (Reuters)
Trump Ordered Strikes on Iran, Then Called Them Off
- President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran, but later canceled the strikes after the operation was reportedly underway.
- Trump ordered the strike after Iran shot down a U.S. drone on Thursday.
- Iran said the drone was in their airspace, but the U.S. claimed it was in international waters.
- In a series of tweets, Trump explained that he called off the attack after being informed that it would cause 150 casualties.
Iran Strike Ordered, Then Cancelled
President Donald Trump ordered air strikes on Iran after the country shot down a U.S. surveillance drone Thursday, but then called off the operations at the last moment.
In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump said he called off the strikes after he was told they would cause 150 casualties, which was “not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
Trump claimed that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded to retaliate” against Iran, but he stopped the attacks “10 minutes before the strike” was set to launch.
….proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone. I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 21, 2019
A senior administration official who spoke to the New York Times, which first reported that Trump had canceled the strikes, said that the operation was well underway when Trump decided to call it off.
“Planes were in the air and ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down,” the Times reported.
The U.S. Drone and Iran
Earlier on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone that had flown into Iran’s airspace.
U.S. Central Command confirmed shortly after that the drone had in fact been shot down, but argued that it was in international airspace.
The commander of the IRGC’s aerospace division said in an interview with Iran’s state-run broadcaster on Friday that Iran had given “warnings” to the drone before they shot it down.
“When it did not redirect its route and continued flying toward and into our territory, we had to shoot it,” he said. “Our national security is a red line.”
U.S. Central Command disputed that version of events, saying in a statement that the incident was “an unprovoked attack on a U.S. surveillance asset in international airspace.”
Iran on Thursday released footage it said showed that the U.S. drone was shot down in Iranian territory.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also shared GPS coordinates that place the drone eight miles off Iran’s coast, which would place the drone inside the 12 nautical miles from the shore that legally belong to Iran under international law.
“We don’t seek war, but will zealously defend our skies, land & waters,” Zarif wrote in the tweet. “We’ll take this new aggression to #UN & show that the US is lying about international waters.”
At 00:14 US drone took off from UAE in stealth mode & violated Iranian airspace. It was targeted at 04:05 at the coordinates (25°59’43″N 57°02’25″E) near Kouh-e Mobarak.— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) June 20, 2019
We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down. pic.twitter.com/pJ34Tysmsg
The Defense Department responded by providing a rendered map of the drone’s flight path, which they argued showed that the drone never entered Iranian airspace.
Trump’s decision to strike Iran and his subsequent reversal is another example of the president’s hesitancy to start a conflict in the Middle East, even as more hawkish officials in his administration push for a more confrontational approach.
While meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House on Thursday, Trump spoke to journalists about Iran. When asked if the U.S. intended on striking Iran in retaliation, Trump responded, “You’ll soon find out.”
“They’re going to find out they made a very big mistake,” he said. “I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did […] it could have been someone loose and stupid.”
He also said that it made a “big, big difference” that the drone was unmanned.
According to the New York Times, Trump’s national security advisers were divided on whether or not to respond militarily to Iran. Senior administration officials told the Times that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton, and C.I.A Director Gina Haspel were in favor of a military response.
However, top Pentagon officials worried that airstrikes could cause risk escalation, as striking Iran could be considered an act of war under international norms.
Pompeo and Bolton have often alluded to responding to Iran with military force, even as Trump has reiterated that he would prefer other alternatives.
Escalating tensions between Iran and the U.S. were further complicated in recent weeks. On Monday, Iran announced that it would exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days, if European nations did not do more to alleviate U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran.
Last Thursday, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two tankers off the coast of Oman. Iran denied the accusations.
Pompeo responded to the attacks during an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, where he said that the U.S. had not ruled out military action. “The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome,” he said.
In contrast, Trump said in an interview with Fox & Friends last Friday that while Iran did attack the tankers, he was not looking for war, and instead favored engagement with the Iranian leadership.
“I’m ready when they are,” Trump said. “Whenever they’re ready, it’s O.K. In the meantime, I’m in no rush.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera)
Severe Water Shortage in India Sparks Protests
- Water shortages across the state of Tamil Nadu, India have left the 4.6 million people in the city of Chennai without water, forcing the government to ship it in by truck.
- A protest over the shortages in the city of Coimbatore on Wednesday resulted in the arrests of hundreds who staged a demonstration in front of a local government building.
- Experts say the drought is caused by the late monsoon season and poor government planning, but has been exacerbated by climate change.
- According to a new government study, 40 percent of India’s population will not have access to drinking water by 2030.
Hundreds of people were arrested in the state of Tamil Nadu, India on Wednesday after protests over state-wide water shortages broke out.
The protestors demonstrated in front of a local government building in the city of Coimbatore and carried empty water containers. Most of the protestors who were arrested were reportedly members of the main opposition party in the state.
According to India Today, police arrested the protestors because they had not received permission to hold the demonstration. Currently, it is unclear how many people were arrested. CNN reported at least 550 people had been detained.
Indian newspapers seemed to be split on the number, with some publications reporting 400 people were arrested, while others cited police reports saying it was actually closer to 700.
While the water shortages are statewide, they are the most extreme in the city of Chennai, which is the state capital and India’s sixth largest city. The drought has essentially left the entire city of around 4.6 million people without water.
Over the last few weeks, the four reservoirs that supply water to the millions of residents in the region have nearly run dry. As a result, the state government has had to truck in tons and tons of water.
#ChennaiWaterScarcity Scenes of the dried up Thiruneermalai, Chembarambakkam, Perumbakkam and Korattur lake in Chennai.— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) June 15, 2019
All major reservoirs supplying water to Chennai dry up, read: https://t.co/r1YCRn1Pf3#தவிக்கும்தமிழ்நாடு pic.twitter.com/3Qr3jvIZk5
Now, every day, hundreds of thousands of residents are forced to wait in line for hours in the summer heat just to fill plastic containers with water, while many others are still left without any at all.
The shortage has been described as one of the worst in years, and it also comes as the region is facing an extreme heatwave that has already killed hundreds of people. Schools, businesses, and restaurants have been forced to close.
The water crisis has also caused unrest in the community. People have started fighting over water, with clashes breaking out across the city. According to reports, trucks transporting water to the people have been hijacked, and the drivers have even been attacked.
What Caused the Shortage?
There are several causes for the recent shortages in Tamil Nadu.
The main reason for the water crisis is the fact that the seasonal monsoon rains are late. The monsoon season usually starts in early June and is essential for replenishing India’s water supplies each year.
However, so far, it has barely rained at all this season. As a result, the state’s Madras High Court has accused the Tamil Nadu government of negligence and poor management.
The court argued that the government has just passively waited for the monsoons to come, rather than being proactive about it, despite the fact that a late and dry monsoon season was predicted.
Another cause of the shortages is the lack of proper infrastructure. Even when the monsoons do come, the state’s current infrastructure often is unable to store water adequately. Experts say that is largely due to the fact that the state does not have rainwater harvesting or recycling.
India also relies on groundwater collection. However, groundwater has been depleted by years of drilling into the earth and urban development that has destroyed the wetlands.
That groundwater depletion is especially bad in large cities, and disproportionately affects low-income families who rely almost entirely on groundwater.
A Growing Crisis
India experiences droughts every year and smaller towns have even run out of water in the past.
According to a 2018 report from the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI), a government think tank, droughts all over India caused water shortages that impacted 600 million people.
Only one in four Indian households have drinking water at home and nearly 200,000 people die each year because of inadequate water supply or water contamination.
However, Chennai is the first major city to have such a severe water shortage.
According to NITI, at least 21 cities in India, including the capital New Delhi, will run out of groundwater by 2020, impacting around 100 million people. Additionally, 40 percent of India’s population will not have access to drinking water by 2030.
All of these problems are expected to get worse with climate change, which experts say will make monsoon rains more erratic and water shortages more common.
This is especially problematic for India, where about 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture, and about 80 percent of water goes to agriculture.