Tag Archives: populism

Trump-Kim smackdown leaves South Koreans cold

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 13, 2017

Moon Jae-in, 19th President of Republic of Korea, holds his first press conference on May 10. Photo: Korean Culture and Information Service, Jeon Han, public domain

For a while it looked as though Donald Trump was the white horse on a cresting wave of right-wing demagogy rushing to break over liberal democracies world-wide.

But the defeat of Trump’s neo-Nazi fellow travellers in Holland and France, and now the election this week of a left-liberal administration in South Korea, leaves the United States President looking more like the grimy spume left on the sand by the retreating tide.

The election to the South Korean presidency on May 8 of Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in is primarily a demand by the country’s voters to reform government, erase corruption and improve social justice. Moon’s election comes as former conservative President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in March precipitating this election, awaits trial on 18 charges of abuse of power, leaking state secrets and taking $US52 million in bribes.

About 80 per cent of voters cast ballots, a high proportion of them young people wanting the country’s democratic institutions revived and strengthened. As remarkable as it may seem from outside, heightened regional tension as Trump ratchets up his rhetoric and calls for “maximum pressure” on North Korea to end its nuclear missile development program, was of only secondary importance to voters among South Korea’s 50 million people.

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South Koreans have got used to living under the daily threat of annihilation by the North’s massive arsenal of conventional weapons. Whether they are wiped out by high explosives or nuclear bombs is irrelevant. South Koreans’ most effective defiance is to get on with their lives, and to continue building one of the world’s most successful economies and vigorous democracies.

However, Moon’s election will give a nasty jolt to the always-precarious balance of security and political interests in the Far East between the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea.

Moon is no softy on dealing with what he calls “the ruthless dictatorial regime” of Kim Jong-un in North Korea. (Moon’s parents were refugees from the North who fled south during the 1950-53 Korean Civil War.) But he believes equally strongly that the reliance on sanctions and military threats followed by successive U.S. presidents, and pumped up to bursting point by Trump, are ineffective.

An immediate point of friction may be Washington’s deployment in South Korea last month of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. Trump ordered the deployment ostensibly as a defence against missile attacks by North Korea, and to protect the over 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. In an apparent attempt to appeal to his anti-foreigner followers in the U.S. Trump even said he would send Seoul a bill for $US1 billion for defending South Korea.

The deployment of the anti-missile system with its powerful radars has not gone down well with the Chinese government, on whom Trump says he is depending to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Beijing complains that THAAD is a threat to the deterrence value of its own nuclear missile system. It has imposed economic sanctions against South Korea in retaliation for the outgoing interim administration’s agreement for the deployment of THAAD.

Moon opposed the deployment of THAAD, which went into operation last week. He says he thinks the Trump regime pushed to get the missile system set up before the new Seoul administration took office to make it more difficult to get THAAD withdrawn.

At this point, Moon has only said he will review the THAAD decision, and has made it clear that he won’t necessarily insist on the removal of the anti-missile system.

He has also said that his policies towards North Korea will flow from his basic commitment to the alliance with Washington. Unlike Trump, Moon favours pursing engagement with North Korea. Sanctions, he says, should be tailored to bring Kim and his regime to the negotiating table.

In this, Moon is following what was called the “Sunshine Policy” of the two liberal presidents of South Korea from 1998 until 2008. The first, Kim Dae-jung, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to open up dialogue with North Korea. Moon served as the chief of staff to the second liberal president, Roh Moo-hyun, in office from 2002 to 2008.

President Roh attempted to establish a network of links with the North that would be hard to unravel, and which would create a seedbed on which relations could grow. These included family reunions, regular diplomatic talks, and joint economic projects such as the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea.

At Kaesong, several of the famous South Korean industrial conglomerates, such as Hyundai and Samsung, set up factories employing over 53,000 North Koreans. There were predictions that in time Kaesong could employ over 700,000 people and become the stimulus for economic development in the North. Before her disgrace, President Park last year ordered the closure of Kaesong as part of the global attempts to get Kim Jong-un to halt his nuclear missile development program.

Moon says he wants to re-open Kaesong, but it will be difficult for him to do so. It would require a functional relationship with Pyongyang, which doesn’t exist at the moment, and also a lifting of United Nations sanctions. As things stand, it would breech UN economic sanctions to re-start or re-invest in the Kaesong project.

The Sunshine Policy never really got off the ground in the early 2000s. It suffered from lack of attention to Asia by U.S. President George W Bush during his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when he did pay attention to the Korean Peninsular in a speech in 2003, Bush ignited paranoia in Pyongyang by including North Korea with Iran and Iraq in his “axis of evil” troika.

The then leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il, took the entirely logical position that the only countries that Washington didn’t invade were the ones that had nuclear weapons. He therefore re-started North Korea’s nuclear program, leading to the first successful underground testing of an atomic bomb in 2006.

The world’s attempts to bring Pyongyang to heel have been on a downward slide since then, and North Korea’s weapons programs have accelerated since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in late 2011.

It is hard to see at the moment how Moon can start a new version of the Sunshine Policy without irritating not only Trump, but also Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been as worried as anyone else by Trump’s unpredictable and ignorant performances on diplomacy and foreign policy. However, Abe is also using Trump’s unreliability as an ally to push his own aims to give Japan a more active independent security policy, including recent suggestions for acquiring the ability to strike North Korean missile sites ahead of any attack launched by Pyongyang. These aims are a significant step away from the pacifist constitution forced on Japan by the U.S. and its Pacific Theatre allies after the Second World War, and are heavily frowned on by a majority of Japanese people.

The Tokyo government had been hoping that a conservative candidate would win in Seoul, and reports from Japan say officials are scurrying around trying to get a measure of Moon.

Moon’s immediate pre-occupation on taking office will be to start addressing the concerns of the people who elected him. High on the list is changes to the political constitution, which tends to create an “imperial presidency,” South Korea’s president is given great administrative powers, but is only allowed a single, five-year term. It was only in 1987 that the country began to climb out of decades of dictatorship and military rule. The single, five-year term limit was designed to prevent backsliding into dictatorships. But it has created a situation where incoming presidents are lame ducks from soon after their inaugurations, and it has tended to encourage corruption.

These tendencies exploded in full bloom during the term of disgraced president Park Geun-hye. She and her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil are accused of soliciting bribes worth $US52 million from some of the leading industrial conglomerates – the “chaebol” – such as Samsung, Hyundai and Lotte in exchange for political favours. It is also alleged that Choi exerted unacceptable influence over Park in making decisions on government ppolicy and appointments, despite having no official position.

Moon’s suggestion for preventing any re-occurance of this scandal is to emulate the U.S. and other republics by having presidents eligible to run for two four-year terms. He has also suggested that many of the president’s executive powers be devolved to beefed-up cabinet ministers.

There is also much unhappiness among many voters at the chaebol system under which a handful of largely family-owned companies control whole swathes of economic activity. Moon agrees that the chaebol system is responsible for high unemployment and low wages, and that the country should move to a more balanced industrial structure. But dismantling the chaebol is not that easy. In the wake of the 1997 Asian economic crisis, South Korea’s first “liberal” president Kim Dae-jung attempted to break up the chaebol, insisting they sell off divisions of their conglomerates that weren’t part of their core businesses, and tried to root out corruption in the companies. He was only marginally successful. Roh Moo-hyun, another liberal president, tried to go further, but he too was not completely successful and there is much left for Moon to do for South Korea to become a more economically responsive and equitable society.

The best hope for South Koreans and Moon is that Trump is so engulfed by dealing with the challenges to his political legitimacy at home that he has no time to butt heads with Kim Jong-un and the Pyongyang regime.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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French election a pivotal European test

Related story: Security issues dominate key French vote. Above, a man looks at campaign posters of the 11th candidates who run in the 2017 French presidential election in Enghien-les-Bains, near Paris, France April 19, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo

By Richard Maher 
April 21, 2017

French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. The Conversation

For the first time in 60 years, polls suggest that the two candidates who garner the most votes in the first round will likely not belong to either of France’s main parties.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, is all but certain to advance to the May 7 runoff. There she is likely to face the independent Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker and one-time economic adviser to President François Hollande.

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A Le Pen victory could lead to France’s withdrawal from the Eurozone and even from the European Union, a once unthinkable prospect that would have repercussions far beyond the continent.

In a crowded field of 11 contenders, which includes a car factory mechanic, a Trotskyite high school economics teacher and a long-term activist who wants to colonise Mars, four candidates have a realistic shot at making it to the second round.

In addition to Le Pen and Macron, they include former prime minister François Fillon, who is under judicial investigation for misuse of public funds, and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Le Pen and and Fillon ended their campaigns early after a gunman shot dead a police officer and wounded two others on the Champs-Élysées on the evening of April 20. The gunman was shot dead by police while attempting to flee.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, and Le Pen’s chances might get a boost from the incident because she has taken a hard line against Muslim immigration and has vowed to make the fight against Islamic terrorism an “absolute priority”.

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for the French 2017 presidential election, attends a news conference in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Top two contenders

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche!, or Onwards!, and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends the France 2 television special prime time political show, “15min to Convince” in Saint-Cloud, near Paris, France, April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Martin Bureau/Pool

The National Front has been around for 45 years, but it has never been in a better position to capture the French presidency; it is no longer a fringe party.

For the past year, Le Pen has been at or near the top of the polls. The question has never been whether she would make it to the second round runoff but who she would face there.

Le Pen has vowed to “drastically” reduce immigration into France, combat the “Islamification” of society and renegotiate the terms of France’s EU membership.

Saying that she wants France to be a “true country” and not “a mere region of the European Union”, Le Pen proposes to exit the Eurozone and reintroduce the franc, leave the EU’s Schengen border-free area and hold a national referendum within six months of taking office over leaving the EU.

Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, is neck-and-neck with Le Pen in the latest polls. A graduate of the École Nationale d’Administration (ENA), the traditional training ground for France’s business and government elite, he launched his En Marche! (Onward!) movement just over a year ago.

Only 36 when Hollande appointed him to run the ministry of economy in 2014, he is one of the youngest people to ever hold a cabinet position in France.

Macron presents himself as a reformist, pro-Europe, pro-business technocrat. He wants to preserve many elements of France’s social model while enhancing the country’s global competitiveness.

He is a strong defender of European integration, and has said that he wants to forge a new Franco-German partnership to lead Europe. He praised German chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than a million migrants and refugees into Germany, saying it saved Europe’s “collective dignity”.

Still, many voters remain sceptical of Macron, pointing to his youth, inexperience and undistinguished record in government.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

Corruption and disarray

Just a few months ago, François Fillon was widely considered to be a shoo-in for the Elysée Palace. A socially conservative free-market defender, he defeated former president Nicolas Sarkozy (his one-time boss) and former prime minister Alain Juppé to win the nomination of the centre-right Republicans last November.

Accused of giving his wife and two children generous salaries for fictitious jobs as parliamentary aides, Fillon was last month charged with several counts of embezzlement. His support has steadily declined since the story broke in January 2017, and it now appears unlikely that he will advance to the second round of voting.

France’s traditional left is also in disarray. Hollande, its first Socialist president since François Mitterrand’s tenure ended in 1995, is the most unpopular president in modern French history. With an approval rating that at one point sunk to 4%, Hollande is now the first sitting president in the history of the Fifth Republic not to run for reelection.

Instead, the Socialist Party nominated Benoît Hamon, who beat out former prime minister Manuel Valls. Hamon’s campaign, which promises a universal basic income, has failed to gain traction; he is currently polling in fifth place.

Unexpectedly, though, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, backed by the Communist Party, has made a late surge. He is now running neck-and-neck with Fillon in the number three spot, behind Le Pen and Macron.

Mélenchon, who has called for a “citizen revolution”, opposes the EU and NATO, wants a 90% maximum income tax rate and to lower France’s official working week from 35 hours to 32.

Detrimental to Europe

Most current polls concur that Le Pen and Macron will advance to the second round runoff next month, with Macron ultimately beating Le Pen by a 20-point margin.

While a Le Pen victory remains unlikely, it is not implausible. Much will depend on voter turnout; a low showing is expected to help Le Pen. Her supporters tend to be more motivated to cast their ballots than those of other candidates.

Current forecasts suggest that turnout may be as low as 65% in the first round. That would be the lowest in recent history (the previous low was 72% in 2002).

If, in the second round, Fillon’s, Hamon’s and Mélenchon’s supporters opted to stay home rather than vote for Macron, Le Pen could eke out a narrow victory.

Europe has had a number of important elections and referenda over the past year, but none with the gravity and significance of France’s presidential election.

The EU will survive Brexit: the UK entered the European Economic Community, the EU’s precursor, late and was always lukewarm on the enterprise. But it would not survive a French exit. And a Le Pen victory next month may lead to the unraveling of both the idea — and the reality — of a united Europe.

There’s folly in mistaking the improbable for the impossible, as Brexit and Donald Trump proved in 2016. “What seemed impossible.” as Le Pen herself said the morning after Trump’s presidential triumph, “is now possible.”

Creative Commons

Richard Maher is a Research Fellow in theGlobal Governance Programme, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, at European University Institute. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Next story: Security issues dominate key French vote, by Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier: The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

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Security issues dominate key French vote

Related story: French election a pivotal European test. Above, French CRS police patrol the Champs Elysees Avenue the day after a policeman was killed and two others were wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

By Leigh Thomas and Marine Pennetier 
April 21, 2017

PARIS (Reuters) – The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

With the first round of voting in the two-stage election taking place on Sunday, far-right nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen promised tougher immigration and border controls to beat “Islamist terrorism” if elected.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron, who narrowly leads a tight race ahead of Le Pen, said the solutions were not as simple as she suggested, and that there was “no such thing as zero risk”.

Anyone who said otherwise was irresponsible, said Macron, a former economy minister in the government that Le Pen has repeatedly criticised for its security record.

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There are four leading candidates in a race that is still too close to call. Sunday’s voting will be followed by a runoff on May 7 between the top two candidates.

The first poll conducted entirely after Thursday’s attack suggested Le Pen had gained some ground on Macron.

While he was still seen winning the first round with 24.5 percent, his score slipped half a percentage point while Le Pen’s rose by one to 23 percent.

Conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, and the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon were both down half a percentage point on 19 percent in the Odoxa poll for the newspaper Le Point.

The attack on the Champs-Elysees boulevard in the very heart of the capital added a new source of unpredictability to an election that will decide the management of France’s 2.2 trillion euro economy, which vies with Britain for the rank of fifth largest in the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump told the Associated Press on Friday he thought the attack will “probably help” Le Pen because she is the candidate who is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.”

Trump told the AP in an interview he was not explicitly endorsing Le Pen but that he believes the attack will affect how French people vote on Sunday.

The outcome could also have a bearing on France’s place in the world and in a European Union still reeling from Britain’s decision to leave. While Macron is ardently pro-EU, Le Pen wants to quit its single currency and potentially hold a referendum on leaving the bloc.

All the candidates are seeking to woo the huge number of undecideds – some 31 percent of those likely to vote, according to an Ipsos poll on Friday.

Fillon also seized on the attack, which was claimed by the militant group Islamic State, saying the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of the next president. “It’s us or them,” he said.

A combination picture shows candidates for the French 2017 presidential election, 1st row L-R : Nathalie Arthaud, France’s extreme-left Lutte Ouvriere political party (LO) leader, Francois Asselineau, UPR candidate, Jacques Cheminade, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Debout La France group candidate, Francois Fillon, the Republicans political party candidate, 2nd row L-R : Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party candidate, Jean Lassalle, Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader, Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (or Onwards !), Jean-Luc Melenchon, candidate of the French far-left Parti de Gauche, Philippe Poutou, Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) presidential candidate, after the official announcement in Paris, France. France goes to the polls on Sunday April 23, 2017 in the first round of its presidential election. REUTERS/Staff

TRUMP TWEET

Financial markets, though, shrugged off the latest twist in the campaign, with French benchmark bond yields hitting a three-month low.

The Champs-Elysees shooting is the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist militants on France since 2015, in which more than 200 people have been killed. A truck ploughed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice last year, killing more than 80, while coordinated attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris claimed about 130 lives in November 2015. There have also been attacks on a satirical weekly and a kosher store.

However, previous attacks that have taken place shortly before elections, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional polls, and a shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidentials, did not appear to boost the scores of those espousing tougher national security.

An assault on a soldier in February at Paris’s Louvre museum by a man wielding a machete also had no obvious impact on this year’s opinion polls, which have consistently said that voters see unemployment and the trustworthiness of politicians as bigger issues.

SECURITY FORCES ON ALERT

One policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in Thursday night’s attack.

Investigators are trying to assess whether the gunman had accomplices, anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told a news conference, adding that the shooter had never shown any signs of radicalisation despite a long police history.

After an emergency meeting of security officials, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces, including elite units, were on alert to back up the 50,000 police earmarked to ensure safety during the election.

“The government is fully mobilised. Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country,” Cazeneuve told reporters. “It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation, which would play into the hands of the enemy.”

Controls on immigration and national security are cornerstones of Le Pen’s National Front agenda, and on Friday she said she would reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on intelligence services’ watch lists.

Macron was quick to respond.

“I’ve heard Madame Le Pen saying again recently that, with her in charge, certain attacks would have been avoided,” he told RTL Radio. “There’s no such thing as zero risk. Anyone who pretends (otherwise) is both irresponsible and deceitful.”

TIGHT RACE

In an Elabe poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, and published on Friday, both Fillon and Melenchon were seen narrowing Macron and Le Pen’s lead.

Should both Macron and Le Pen make it to the second round, he was likely to win the runoff by 65 percent to 35, according to the survey for BFM TV and L’Express magazine.

Fillon, who has slowly clawed back some ground lost after a fake jobs scandal, saw his score in the first round rise half a percentage point to 20 percent.

Melenchon, who would hike taxes on the rich and spend 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of borrowed money on vast housebuilding and renewable energy projects, gained 1.5 points to 19.5 percent as he built further on the momentum he has generated with strong performances in television debates.

If Melenchon makes it to the runoff, he was projected by the survey to beat either Le Pen or Fillon by comfortable margins, although he was seen losing to Macron by 41 percent to 59.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Ingrid Melander, Laurence Frost, Bate Felix, Jean-Baptiste Vey, John Irish; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Cynthia Osterman)

Next story:  French election a pivotal European test, analysis by Richard Maher: French voters go to the polls on April 23 for the first round of what has been the most unorthodox, unpredictable and potentially momentous presidential contest in recent French history. It could have repercussions far beyond the continent.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Turkey’s dispute with Europe feeds Erdogan’s power thirst

President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 10, 2017, in Moscow. Photo handout from the Kremlin

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
March 18, 2017

The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte this week saw off a serious populist challenge from bleach-blonde Islamaphobe Geert Wilders, but in so doing he has unwittingly given another demagogue the leg-up he needs to achieve supreme power.

The diplomatic face-off between the Netherlands and Turkey in the last days of the campaign undoubtedly had a significant effect on the outcome of the Dutch election. But it also was a gift to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in the final weeks of a referendum campaign that, if successful, will give him almost dictatorial powers.

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting of the Russia High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council. Photo handout, Turkish press office

 

Until now, Turks have been sharply divided on whether or not to transfer almost all power from parliament to an executive presidency under Erdogan. And Erdogan himself had run out of new ideas about how to entice the two or three per cent of voters he needs to fulfil his lust for power.

Then came resistance to his campaign, first from Germany and then from the Netherlands. Both countries blocked Erdogan’s ministers and campaign organizers from holding rallies among the very large Turkish diasporas in both their countries. Erdogan reacted by going into rhetorical overdrive, accusing both Germany and the Netherlands of nursing Nazi sentiments.

There are about 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands, where the population is 17 million, and around 2 million Turks in Germany, whose population is 80 million.

In both countries the Turkish immigrants are sharply divided over the April 16 referendum. And both the German and Dutch governments had good reason to fear that campaign rallies on behalf of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party could get out of hand.

In Germany, several cities banned planned rallies where members of Erdogan’s government would address the crowds. Some of the excuses sounded slender – lack of parking spaces in one case and fire safety concerns in another – and were easily derided by Erdogan. He accused the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel of “Nazi practices.”

The Dutch had even more reason than the Germans to be wary of allowing Erdogan’s backers to excite the sharp political divisions among Turks in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was in the final days of the parliamentary election held on Wednesday, March 15, and issues around the country’s Muslim immigrants were a central theme of the campaign. Wilders and his Freedom Party led in the polls for much of the campaign with a manifesto of ending Muslim immigration, banning the Koran, closing mosques and taking the Netherlands out of the European Union (EU).

Last Saturday the Dutch government revoked landing rights for a plane carrying Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, who planned to speak at a rally. Then Dutch police blocked Family Minister, Beytul Kaya, from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam and forced her to drive back to Germany, from where she had come.

The Rotterdam incident spurred hundreds of Erdogan’s Turkish supporters to take to the streets, and the Dutch police deployed riot squads to restore order.

Erdogan’s government manufactured some fine outrage. The president’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, pushed out a tweet saying the Dutch action was “a dark day for democracy in Europe. Shame on the Dutch government for succumbing to anti-Islam racists and fascists.”

Erdogan chased this theme down the road on Friday in a speech to his supporters in the western Turkish city of Sakarya.

“My dear brothers, a battle has started between the cross and the half moon. There can be no other explanation,” he said in a crude reference to the symbols of Christianity and Islam that adorned the opposing flags in the Crusades of the Middle Ages.

He was even more explicit when he said a ruling on Tuesday by the European Court of Justice permitting companies to ban employees wearing religious symbols, including the headscarf worn by devout Muslim women, as the beginning of a European “crusade” against Islam.

Erdogan went on to threaten to jettison the year-old agreement with the EU to control the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe.

There are nearly three million refugees from the six-year Syrian civil war in camps in Turkey. In 2015, the Erdogan government turned a blind eye and may even have encouraged about one million of the refugees to leave the camps and make the short sea crossing into Greece, the closest EU member country. The torrent of people seeking sanctuary caused a humanitarian and social crisis across the EU, especially as the Syrians added to tens of thousands of people fleeing other parts of the Middle East, Central Asia and West Africa.

Under the terms of the March 2016 deal, Ankara agreed to stop asylum seekers from crossing by sea to the Greek islands in return for the equivalent of $5 billion to finance support for the Syrians in Turkey.

Syrian refugees who had reached the Greek islands were to be returned to Turkey, while qualified Syrian asylum seekers in Turkey were to be resettled in the EU.

Erdogan is now saying that Turkey will no longer readmit failed asylum-seekers from the EU, which raises the prospect of the whole deal unravelling. The Turkish leader is clearly prepared to open the tap on another flow of refugees into Europe if it suits his political purposes.

He is playing a risky game, with potentially disastrous effects on Turkey’s long-term relation not only with Europe, but also with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), of which Ankara is a member.

For close to half a century Turkey has been flirting with joining Europe’s economic community. There has been mixed enthusiasm for the match on both sides.

European leaders have looked askance at the very intrusive role the Turkish military has played in politics until very recently. The military regarded itself as the trustee of the secular Turkish state founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, and regularly launched coups – or threatened to do so – when politicians headed off in directions the generals didn’t like.

An over-crowded graveyard is pictured in the rebel held al-Shaar neighbourhood of Aleppo, Syria October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Erdogan, however, since he came to power first as Prime Minister in 2003 and then as President in 2014, has successfully turned Turkey towards becoming an Islamic state and has nullified the independent power of the military at the same time. An attempted coup by elements of the military last year played into Erdogan’s hands. Since then about 140,000 members of the military, the judiciary, academia and the media have either been imprisoned, detained, or fired from their jobs.

Erdogan’s Islamization policies have made European leaders even more suspicious about welcoming Turkey into the EU than before. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke for many when he said Turkish membership of the EU is “unthinkable.”

Even if the major European leaders were more amenable to Turkey in the EU it would be vetoed by member state Cyprus. The island has been partitioned since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus to protect the majority Turkish population in that region against Greek annexation. The dispute remains unresolved and EU member Cyprus, the southern portion of the island with its ethnic Greek majority, will block Turkey joining the EU until there is a settlement.

But Erdogan’s spat with Germany and the Netherlands fits into a pattern of actions by the Turkish President over several years, turning his country away from Europe and the West. He is behaving as though his prime objective is to restore Turkey as a major mover and shaker in the Middle East, a position it lost with the end of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

That is most evident in the often duplicitous role Erdogan has played in the Syrian civil war. Early on, he allowed Turkey to be a highway for foreign fighters seeking to join the Islamic State terrorist, fundamentalist group occupying much of eastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. And when Erdogan did agree to join his NATO allies in military action in Syria, he focussed on attacking Syrian Kurds, who he accuses of being allies and supporters of the independence movement among Turkish Kurds.

Even so, Turkey’s relations with its NATO allies appear to be functional at the moment. Ankara is working with Washington and Moscow in the early stages of talks to fashion a joint plan to bring peace to Syria.

What effects the outcome of the April 16 referendum will have are difficult to gauge. The prospect of Erdogan’s pleasure at a victory and achieving near despotic power is unsavoury. But even more so is the chaos his anger may unleash if he loses.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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