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Opposition Party Wins Mayoral Race in Istanbul in Massive Blow to Erdogan

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  • 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.

Istanbul Election

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.”

Source: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Re-Run Election

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.

Response

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.

Source Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

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)

International

China Cautiously Crawls Out of Zero COVID Policy

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Estimates put the number of people who will die if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.


People Go Back to Bars

The Chinese government has begun to ease some of its notoriously strict pandemic lockdown measures, signaling that the end of the “zero-COVID” policy may be on the horizon.

On Monday, commuters in Beijing and at least 16 other cities were allowed to board buses and subways without a virus test in the previous 48 hours for the first time in months.

In Shanghai, visitors to most sites will require a negative test within the last week, rather than the last two days, though schools, hospitals, and bars will require one within the past 48 hours.

Dining in restaurants in some parts of Beijing is still prohibited, but bars and restaurants in many areas of the country are reopening.

In Urumqi, where anti-lockdown protests erupted late last month after an apartment fire killed 10 people, authorities said in a statement Monday that malls, markets, and other venues will reopen.

Zhengzhou, the central city home to the world’s largest iPhone plant which was last month rocked by violent unrest, will no longer require COVID test results for public transport, taxis, and visits to “public areas”, authorities said in a Sunday statement.

Beijing authorities had required registration to purchase fever, cough, and soar throat medicine, which they believed people were using to hide their coronavirus infections, but that mandate has been lifted. Certain districts in the capital also announced that some residents may self-isolate inside their homes rather than being forced to quarantine in a centralized facility.

Is China Ready to Reopen?

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, who oversees COVID efforts, said last week that the country’s health system had withstood the test of the virus and that the omicron subvariant is less deadly than previous strains.

But there has not been a significant drop in cases recently to prompt the easing of restrictions. On Monday, the government reported 30,014 new cases, down from last week’s peak of over 40,000 but still near record highs for China.

Some observers speculate that the government’s move was related to the recent protests, in which thousands of people poured onto the streets of several major cities to demand freedom and an end to the zero-COVID policy. Authorities cracked down on demonstrators, and any mention of the protests was rigorously censored on Chinese social media.

There was no sign of any significant unrest this weekend.

Although many people are excited to enjoy less restricted lives and restart a shuddered economy, others are concerned about the public health consequences reopening society could incur. Estimates put the number of people who will die from the coronavirus if China fully reopens between 1.3 and 2 million, but higher vaccination rates could limit the death toll.

Last week, the government launched a campaign to vaccinate the elderly population.

Only about 40% of people over the age of 80 have gotten their booster shot, according to official statistics.

Health experts and economists say vaccination rates and ICU preparedness won’t be sufficient to fully end the zero-COVID policy until mid-2023 or 2024.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Associated Press) (Reuters)

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India Pedestrian Bridge Collapsed 4 Days After Renovations, Killing Over 100 People

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The company responsible for the upkeep of the Morbi bridge did not obtain a safety certificate before re-opening.


Bridge Collapses

After seven months of renovations, the Morbi walking bridge in India opened to the public. Four days later, the bridge collapsed, killing more than 130 people. 

According to the local government, there were about 200 people on the bridge when it collapsed on Sunday, despite its capacity of 125. 

During a campaign event on Monday, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the state government had set up a committee to investigate the tragedy.

“I assure the people of the country that there will be nothing lacking in the relief and rescue efforts,” he stated.

Along with the investigation, the state has launched a criminal complaint against Oreva Group, the company responsible for maintaining the bridge. Oreva Group reopened the bridge after renovations without getting a safety certificate from the government. 

Shifting Blame

In response, Oreva Group spoke to a local news outlet and blamed those on the bridge for its collapse.

“While we are waiting for more information, prima facie, the bridge collapsed as too many people in the mid-section of the bridge were trying to sway it from one way to the other,” the group claimed.

The state government has offered compensation for the families of the deceased, but that is not enough for some. One father whose wife and two children died in the collapse told VICE he wants answers and accountability.

“Why were so many people given tickets? Who allowed them? Who is answerable?” he asked.

Indian police have arrested nine people including ticketing clerks and security guards for failing to regulate the crowd, according to Reuters. 

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (VICE) (CNN)

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Xi Jinping Tightens Grip on China by Eliminating Rivals

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Despite the staggering power grab, Xi faces geopolitical competition from abroad as well as social and economic instability at home.


Xi Surrounds Himself With Allies

Chinese President Xi Jinping shook up politics over the weekend when he revealed the government’s new leadership, almost exclusively composed of his own hardline loyalists.

Six men — Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi — will form the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body.

The four new members are all Xi loyalists, pushing out Premier Li Keqiang and the head of China’s top advisory body Wang Yang, two key party figures outside Xi’s inner circle who retired despite being eligible to serve another term.

For the first time in a quarter-century, China’s 24-member Politburo will be made up entirely of men, underlining the exclusion of women from Chinese politics.

An official account of the selection process said that a top criterion for leadership was loyalty to Xi, and rising officials must stay in lockstep with him “in thinking, politics and action.”

Topping off the developments, Xi officially secured an unprecedented third term as leader, something that was only made possible in 2018 when the government abolished term limits on the presidency. The weekend marked China’s greatest consolidation of political power in a single figure in decades.

As the 20th Communist Party Congress came to a close Saturday, China’s former leader Hu Jintao appeared reluctant as he was suddenly and inexplicably escorted from his seat next to Xi out of the Great Hall of the People.

Some commentators have argued that a tightly knit band of yes men may help Xi fend off internal party dissent, but it could ultimately result in poor governance as his subordinates fear giving him bad news.

The Arc of History Bends Toward China

Despite the extreme concentration of political power, China’s Communist Party stares down a gauntlet of challenges both foreign and domestic.

Beijing remains locked in a strategic competition with Washington, which has sought to contain the East Asian rival’s rise as a global superpower, but the past week’s congress may portend a stubbornly defiant China for years to come.

Xi is expected to use his firmly secure position within the party to pursue his agenda in full force — by strengthening Beijing’s claim over Taiwan, expanding China’s economic foothold in developing countries, and achieving self-sufficiency in strategic technologies such as semiconductors.

At home, China’s economy has faltered during the pandemic, with high unemployment, low consumption, and slow economic growth putting pressure on a government that stakes much of its legitimacy on promises to deliver prosperity to the population. Between July and September, the country’s GDP grew by 3.9%, according to official data released Monday, which is above many analysts’ expectations but still far below the state’s target of around 5.5%.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics postponed the data’s publication last week ahead of the 20th party congress, reinforcing concerns that Xi’s leadership will put politics before economics.

Monday’s announcement roiled stock markets, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index plunging 6%, as well as the Shanghai Composite and the Shenzhen Composite Index both falling by about 2%.

Beijing has also seen increased political resistance from the population, from anti-lockdown protests in Shanghai to widespread mortgage boycotts over delays from real estate developers.

Last week, a man unfurled two large banners from an overpass in Beijing and called President Xi a “dictator” through a megaphone.

Such small-scale demonstrations are not new, but they took place in the capital just before the congress drew enough attention for photos of the stunt to go viral on social media, where an equally swift censorship campaign stamped out any mention of it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Washington Post)

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