Geopolitics

Muharrem Ince, Can A Former Science Teacher Beat Erdogan?

Ince, a social democrat, is now the opposition's leading presidential candidate. With support from Kurdish voters, he may even force a runoff.

Ince at a recent campaign rally in Yalova, Turkey
Ince at a recent campaign rally in Yalova, Turkey
Boris Kálnoky

ANKARA — On a recent campaign stop in the eastern city of Van, presidential candidate Muharrem Ince of the social-democratic and secular opposition party CHP made a proposal for how to address the Kurdish problem: Invite all parties to a parliamentary committee, the 54-year-old said, and broadcast the discussions live on television.

Only a few days earlier, in the Kurdish metropolis of Diyarbakir, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also broached the topic, albeit from a very different angle. "There is no Kurdish problem," he said. "The state of the Kurds is called the Turkish Republic."

Erdogan's biggest selling point, according to his own calculations, is his successful war against the Kurds in Syria, followed by an extensive military intervention in northern Iraq against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known as the PKK. His message wasn't really for the Kurds, in other words, but for his nationalist Turkish backers.

Still, the voices of the Kurds will have a say in ​Turkey's future, and many of those voters could end up backing Ince in the Sunday's first round of presidential elections, in large part because of the government crackdown on the HDP, the Kurdish party whose own presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, is sitting in prison along with many of its other top officials.

It's Ince who has now emerged as the clear favorite in the opposition camp.

Poll numbers suggest that Ince could force a runoff against Erdogan — provided there is no major electoral fraud. The same poll predicts that Erdogan would win, but only by two percentage points. There's also a question of just how much faith Kurds really place in Ince. As voters know, Turkish politicians are known to promise anything during an election campaign, including unachievable goals.

Either way, Erdogan's Kurdish policy is clearly on people's minds. In the past two years, the Army has leveled entire villages, displacing some 400,000 to 500,000 Kurds in their own country. Their candidate, Demirtas, cannot win, and the other leading candidate alongside Erdogan and Ince, Meral Aksener — with her newly formed iYi Party (Good Party) — was interior minister in the late 90s, at a time of heightened repression against the PKK. As such she's unlikely to win many votes in heavily Kurdish southeastern Turkey.

Gaining momentum

Indeed, the Kurdish factor may have much to do with Ince's growing popularity in recent weeks. In that time, the CHP candidate has managed to shift the spotlight away from Aksener — whose own political ascent prompted Erdogan to push the election date ahead by more than a year — before the former interior minister and her new party have time to properly build their base.

Pundits had long claimed that only someone like Aksener, a conservative who was previously a member of the nationalist MHP party, could beat Erdogan. And yet, it's Ince who has now emerged as the clear favorite in the opposition camp. His rise is all the more surprising given how little success his party, the Kemalist CHP, has had during Erdogan's tenure as head of the Turkish government.

Even now, the CHP as a whole performs relatively poorly in polls, never scoring more than 20%. But voters do seem to like Ince, a former physics and chemistry teacher who served as a member of Parliament from 1999 until 2014. Erdogan's AKP, in the meantime, appears to be losing support. Since mid-April, the party's poll numbers have gone from about 50% to just over 40% — bad news for Erdogan, who is favored nevertheless, to retain the presidency.

Still, there does seem to be a change in the air. In late May, when Ince gave an interview to Star TV, viewership was four times greater than it was for Erdogan, who'd been interviewed by the same network just a few days earlier.

Ince knows how to say what Erdogan's opponents want to hear. He wants to reverse the presidential constitution, which provides the next president with more power than any politician since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, modern Turkey's founder, and restore judicial independence and press freedoms. He says a new government is needed to improve the slagging economy. And he accuses Erdogan of religious fundamentalism.

"He wanted to take us to Germany, instead he led us into the Wahhabi desert," the candidate said at one point. After 16 years of Erdogan, enough is enough, Ince argues.

It is quite conceivable that ballots could be manipulated.

But the candidate has also learned a lot from Erdogan. He goes to the mosque every Friday, uses strong-man language to insist that Turkey is "nobody's servant," and, much like Erdogan himself, has a penchant for attacking Angela Merkel. Ince once called the German chancellor "outrageous."

Erdogan has contributed to Ince's rise as well by focusing so much of his campaign on the CHP candidate. He mentions Ince more than he does Aksener. Ince also gets more attention in the media, including from state-controlled outlets.

Still, Erdogan is clearly the man to beat. He controls the media, the security forces, the judiciary and the electoral commission. Where he'll struggle is in the Kurdish southeast. It remains to be seen, therefore, what will happen if many Kurds vote for Ince. It is quite conceivable that thanks to emergency laws, ballots could be manipulated.

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.

• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.

👮🎮  IN OTHER NEWS

Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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