Recep Tayyip Erdogan is used to winning elections — he served as Turkey's prime minister for three terms from 2003 and then as president since 2014. He narrowly won a referendum last year that will scrap the role of prime minister and create a powerful executive presidency. But a new election is needed to trigger those powers, and if Erdogan wins, Turkey will see an even more muscular strongman at its helm.
What are Erdogan's chances of winning?
Pretty good. Erdogan is leading in the polls — but in Turkish politics, nothing is a sure bet. Erdogan has some clear advantages. A government crackdown on the media following an attempted coup in 2016 has meant that Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dominate the airwaves and get the most ink. Vocal critics have been imprisoned, and the President has appointed pro-government officials to the election commission. But there is a strong opposition and most polls indicate the vote is likely to go to a runoff round. Opposition candidates have also found their own tools. They have harnessed the power of new media to get their message across, and there are genuine competitors on the ballot offering genuine alternatives. While Turkey's election may not be an even playing field, votes are not routinely rigged in the country and voter fraud is minimal. As the prominent Turkey analyst Asli Aydintasbas wrote, "Turkey is not Russia."
What are the key issues?
The economy: Erdogan has long relied on his economic achievements to win elections, but that won't be so easy this time around. The Turkish lira has hit all-time lows, inflation is on the rise and the robust growth of recent years is expected to slow dramatically.The Kurds: The Turkish army has been fighting the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organization, for nearly four decades. Erdogan's AKP has ruled out returning to a peace process that collapsed in 2015, and the Turkish military, meanwhile, has intensified assaults on PKK strongholds in Iraq's Qandil Mountains ahead of the vote. At the same time, Turkey's Kurdish population, particularly in the southeast, is a vital constituency for Erdogan. Their vote tends to split between his AKP and the pro-Kurdish HDP. But the AKP's recent alliance with the nationalist MHP, which takes a hard line against the Kurds, could alienate this key base. If the HDP gains at least 10% of the vote, it will pass the threshold needed to give it a presence in parliament, and that could mean it deprives the AKP of its parliamentary majority.Syria: The large number of Syrian refugees living in Turkey has also become an election issue. Several parties have said they hope to send Syrians back to their country, though they are careful to say they will do it only after the war is over and they emphasize the importance of peace-building there. Turkey's involvement in the Syrian war, as well as its continued fight with the PKK, has inspired acts of terrorism in the country in recent years, another concern for voters.
Who's in the running for president?
Turkey's story for more than a decade now has centered around Erdogan and his unwavering popularity. Unlike previous elections, this time there are more candidates to choose from, most of whom are promising to preserve Turkey's parliamentary system. Muharrem Ince Leading the pack against Erdogan is Muharrem Ince, candidate for the main opposition, center-left Republican People's Party (CHP). He is promising a more independent judiciary, greater personal freedoms and an end to excessive government spending. He is known for his fiery speeches and for being tough on Erdogan's AKP, bringing a charisma that had been sorely lacking in the CHP for years. His campaign rallies have been colorful — he is often seen singing and dancing to traditional songs, and he once rode a bicycle on stage as a jibe against Erdogan's excessive spending. Meral Aksener The only woman in the running is Meral Aksener, a veteran politician who briefly served as interior minister in the 1990s. As a conservative nationalist, Aksener threatens to steal support from Erdogan voters on the right. The candidate broke with her MHP party when it joined Erdogan in a ruling coalition, and is running from her new center-right IYI Parti (Good Party). Her campaign has been about countering what she has described as AKP's mismanagement of the economy. If she won, Aksener would be the first female president, but not Turkey's first female head of state — Tansu Ciller was elected Turkey's first prime minister in 1993. Selahattin Demirtas The HDP's Selahattin Demirtas is leading his campaign from prison, where he has been remanded since November 2016 following the failed coup, for what his party calls politically-motivated terror allegations. He is accused of supporting the outlawed PKK. Members of parliament from Demirtas' party have also been jailed or removed from their posts due to alleged terror affiliations. Demirtas' campaign has focused on improving quality and diversity, and his only public appearance in the campaign period was a 10-minute pre-recorded speech on Turkish state broadcaster TRT, which every candidate technically has the legal right to use. In his speech, a visibly skinnier Demirtas called on Turkish voters to unite against Erdogan, and also criticized the President for threatening to bring back capital punishment after the failed coup.
What will the new system look like?
After the vote, the position of prime minister will be dissolved and all its powers transferred to the president, a role that had traditionally been ceremonial. One key change is that the president will have the power to issue decrees — in other words, create laws unilaterally. Erdogan has been able to issue decrees over the past two years only because his government placed the country in a state of emergency following the failed coup. But he may not be able to keep the country in that state for much longer, so the new system would give him a way to retain that power, should he be reelected. Turkey's executive government will look a lot like the United States'. The president, for example, will have the power to appoint cabinet ministers directly. In the past, only members of parliament were allowed to hold cabinet positions. The president will also be able to appoint a number of officials to a supreme court board, which is in charge of selecting judges and prosecutors. Controlling that body could mean influence over the courts.
CNN's Isil Sariyuce contributed to this report.
Post-Brexit trade: Is red tape chaos just ‘teething trouble’ as the UK government argues?
January has seen Brexit set in motion for real — but for many businesses, operations have ground to a standstill as they struggle to shift goods across new borders.
With the UK now outside the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union, importers and exporters on both sides of the English Channel say the new rules have brought a nightmare of red tape and extra costs.
Paperwork and border checks have led to seafood being left stranded in ports, and empty shelves in some supermarkets as deliveries failed to materialise.
Supplies from Great Britain to Northern Ireland have also been hit as the need to keep an open land border on the island of Ireland means the North is largely following EU rules.
The UK government has attributed much of the chaos to “teething problems”, arguing the longer term will bring great opportunities. But some trade experts say some of the new burdens on business are here to stay.
The nature and scale of the problem is illustrated by this selection of some of the hassles reported by traders:
- “My regular logistics partner has suspended their service completely from the EU to the UK until February. These guys operate in 31 countries & know how to move stock quickly, but the paperwork nightmare is just too much for them” — Daniel Lambert (Wines), wine import company, Bridgend, Wales. He wrote a 22-point Twitter thread detailing problems encountered.
- “It’s not good. This situation, for me it’s too much paperwork, too much wait, wait, all the time is wait. This is not good.” — UK-based Polish lorry driver Petar Loba, stuck in a queue near Dover.
- “A shipment that used to cost £95 (€107) and take five minutes to organise will now take an afternoon and cost £400 (€452)” — Richard Townsend of Bailey Paints, a small business which exports paint from Stroud in England to Ireland.
- “We can’t get deliveries you know. Companies are taking orders and then they’re ringing us back going, ‘we can’t deliver that until further notice’.” — Kieran Sloan of Sawers delicatessen in Belfast, on supply problems from Britain.
- “The first days were difficult, there were a great deal of delays. Some of our drivers had to wait a week on the British side to make export declarations… (There were) customers who’d declared nothing, those who’d made admin mistakes… queues to obtain documents in England.” — Benoît Lefebvre of French firm Sonotri, on transporting chemical products to England.
- “All the EU (countries) that used to buy a lot of our fish, they’ve kind of stopped because the fish that were getting transferred were going off, going bad. So we’ve lost our entire export market.” — Ben Vass, fisherman, Devon, England.
- “80% of our sales get shipped to the EU, so obviously now it’s all stopped. Our prices have dropped. All our fish is getting frozen.” — Nathan Daley, fisherman, Devon, England.
- “We have had to completely suspend the sending of all our consumer parcels to the EU. We had a bounce-back of every single parcel that we sent from 4th January onwards… It’s because you now need a health certificate even for a consumer parcel. The cost of a health certificate is £180 (€203) per consignment.” — Simon Spurrell, Cheshire Cheese Company.
- “A customer… had to pay over 50% of what his overall parcel was worth to get it out of customs and we had to send him a VAT invoice… It’s been horrible and it’s almost gotten to the point where we’ll have to probably stop trading with the EU, which is going to cost us thousands of pounds over the next three months.” — Joycelyn Mate of Afrocenchix, exporting afro hair products from the UK.
Why are traders suffering like this?
The Brexit trade deal struck on Christmas Eve was celebrated as a great success. It certainly brought huge relief, avoiding an even more chaotic no-deal scenario with just days to spare.
The agreement means trade can continue between the UK and the EU, free of tariffs (import taxes) and quotas.
Boris Johnson has claimed, wrongly, that there are no non-tariff barriers. The reality is — as seen by the above examples — is that the new trading regime has brought a mountain of extra bureaucracy and costs.
Firms now need to fill out customs declarations. The process involving codes and new IT systems can lead to significant delays. Slower procedures mean higher costs. There are also new regulatory checks for food, with meat, dairy and fish products needing health certificates.
There is a risk that supplies get stuck. Under the “groupage” system, multiple consignments often travel in one trailer. But all may need to be checked, and problems or mistakes can hold up the whole shipment.
There are also complications over “rules of origin” regulations, and VAT (Value Added Tax), as the UK is no longer part of the EU’s VAT area. EU exporters sending goods to the UK have to register with UK authorities and may have to pay UK import VAT. VAT and excise duties are also due on goods entering the EU from the UK.
Some changes have been unexpected. Ireland, for instance, has discovered that it has been sometimes hit by EU import duties. Despite the no-tariff Brexit deal, there is no exemption if goods pass through Britain on their way to or from the continent, as they are no longer considered to be of EU origin.
The European Commission warned last July of significant border disruption from the end of the transition period, regardless of whether a trade deal was agreed.
What have industry bodies been saying?
The UK’s Road Haulage Association says so worried are exporters over customs demands or the danger of getting stuck in port — not to mention the additional burden of COVID-19 tests for drivers — that many are not sending at all.
The RHA has reported that at least 40% of lorries bringing goods from the EU to Britain are returning to the continent empty, which has a “huge impact on the supply chain”.
The British Meat Processors Association has said the post-Brexit problems “are now causing a serious and sustained loss of trade with our biggest export partner”.
“If continental supermarkets are unable to have products delivered the way they need them to be, this trade will simply be lost as EU customers abandon UK suppliers and source product from European processors,” said Nick Allen, BMPA’s Chief Executive.
“Members are already being told by their EU customers that they’ll be looking to Spain and Ireland to buy products from now on.”
The fishing industry, whose produce is equally highly perishable, has echoed such complaints. The Scottish seafood industry in particular has been sounding the alarm.
EU vaccine delays dog effort to speed up COVID inoculations
AstraZeneca’s EU vaccine shipments will be delayed, the EU’s health commissioner said, in yet another obstacle to the bloc’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout.
“The EU Commission and Member States expressed deep dissatisfaction with this,” Stella Kyriakides tweeted on Friday after member states heard from AstraZeneca representatives.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is expected to receive approval from the European Medicines Agency this week, and any delay or shortage of doses could be a significant speed bump as member states race to vaccinate their populations amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis.
The emergence of more transmissible variants of coronavirus has caused significant concern in Europe with the UK reporting record daily hospitalisations and deaths due to the virus mutations.
Johnson warned on Friday that early evidence showed the new variant could be more deadly as well.
Countries are racing against the clock to vaccinate as many people as possible before the variants spread further.
But Pfizer said just last week that fewer doses would be available in the EU in late January and early February due to quality tests at the manufacturing plant in Belgium.
Some EU countries have since had to cut vaccinations amid the delays, prompting criticism of the pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines.
Domenico Arcuri, Italy’s coronavirus commissioner, said that vaccinations had been cut from 80,000 a day to 28,000 a day, Italian media reported. He said Italian authorities were considering taking legal action against Pfizer, AP reported.
Authorities in Germany’s most populous state said that due to delays in delivery of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine they would halt first vaccinations. North Rhine Westphalia had received 100,000 vaccine doses less than originally planned, the state said.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn said that “we are currently in a phase in which the worldwide demand for corona vaccines is very high.”
Member states agreed on Thursday that vaccine deliveries should be coordinated and distributed at the same time after the bloc’s most recent Steering Committee meeting, where vaccinations are discussed.
“We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process, and we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon,” Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said on Thursday.
She also called for more testing and increases in sequencing amid the more transmissible mutations of the virus.
It comes as the bloc urged member states to speed up vaccinations, setting an ambitious goal to vaccinate 70% of the EU population by summer 2021. By March, the EU commission says they hope that 80% of vulnerable individuals and healthcare workers can be vaccinated.
In order to speed things along, countries have in some cases delayed second doses as much as possible and begun pulling sixth doses from a vaccine dial instead of five, in accordance with the EU regulator’s recommendation.
Some EU member states secure vaccines outside of bloc
However, some EU states appeared to also go rogue recently in terms of vaccine procurement, a move EU officials said was unnecessary as the bloc had secured enough vaccines for the entire EU population.
Hungary’s foreign minister said the country had procured two million doses of the Russian coronavirus vaccine.
They are the only EU country to approve the vaccine, Sputnik V, which has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said the vaccines will arrive in three stages, with the first doses delivered within a month.
A Commission spokesperson told Euronews prior to Hungary’s announcement that “member states may have a separate negotiation if it’s about a vaccine that’s not covered by the portfolio if it’s with a company that we are not having negotiations with.”
Germany’s government, meanwhile, said in a statement to Euronews that it had bilateral negotiations with some pharmaceutical companies that would not impact the EU vaccine agreement.
It remains unclear, however, if vaccine doses secured bilaterally by the country would arrive before or after doses as part of EU contracts and whether those negotiations were outside the joint member state negotiations.
Economists revise eurozone growth for 2021 downwards amid second COVID wave
Positive growth forecasts for the eurozone economy have been cut by economists as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic look set to slow down its post-COVID-19 recovery, according to a European Central Bank (ECB) survey.
Economists polled in the ECB’s annual Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) published on Friday predicted real GDP growth would fall to 4.4 per cent this year amid further lockdowns and pandemic-related restrictions, down from 5.3 per cent in the previous quarter’s predictions.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, the president of the ECB Christine Lagarde said the pandemic posed “downside risks” to the prospects for a rapid return to growth in the eurozone.
“The intensification of the pandemic poses risks to short-term economic prospects,” said Lagarde after the institution’s governing council left its monetary support programme for the coronavirus-hit economy unaltered.
Forecasts for 2020 fared better than previously predicted, rising to 3.7 per cent compared to forecasts of 2.6 per cent in the last survey published in October.
The long-term forecast showed the eurozone economy expanding by just 1.4 per cent in 2025.
Mentioning “serious risks” and “risks of deterioration” for the eurozone economy, the ECB chief nevertheless considered the latest forecasts by the Frankfurt institution to remain “largely valid”.
“The start of vaccination campaigns in the euro area is an important step in the resolution of the current health crisis. But the pandemic continues to pose serious risks to public health and to the economies of the eurozone and the world,” she said.
Lagarde had previously warned in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde in October last year that Europe’s economic recovery risked “running out of steam” as a second wave of coronavirus gripped the continent.
“The second wave of the epidemic in Europe, particularly in France, and the new restrictive measures that accompany it add to uncertainty and weigh on the recovery,” she said.
Of particular concern, she said, was job losses due to the pandemic. The EU unemployment rate in October hovered around 7.6 per cent, one per cent higher than at the same time the previous year.
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