A LOOMING CRISIS IN TURKEY?

Turkey faces a moment of truth.


On Sunday, presidential and parliamentary elections will pit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) against multiple challengers. If no presidential candidate wins a majority, the top two finishers advance to a second-round vote on July 8.

This a deeply divided country that’s been governed under a state of emergency for nearly two years. Here’s your election cheat sheet:

Erdogan’s accomplishments: A generation ago, elites in the country’s largest cities — Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir — dominated Turkey’s politics and economy, and the military acted as guardian of a strict secularism in public life. Erdogan, who first became prime minister in 2003, challenged the dominance of secularism and put religion at the center of public life. Critically, he also enacted policies designed to empower citizens and small businesses across Turkey’s conservative heartland.

GDP per capita nearly tripled during the first decade of Erdogan’s political rule.

The power grab: Erdogan, suspicious of military interference with his agenda, has fought for Putin-level power for years. Prevented by the rules of his party from continuing as prime minister, he won election as president in 2014 and pitched a referendum that would give the office of president much more power.

In July 2016, he responded to a failed military coup by imposing a state of emergency, still in effect today, that gave him extraordinary powers to tighten control of courts, police, and the army.

The crackdown: According to a March 2018 report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2017 the state of emergency allowed the government to…

  • arrest nearly 160,000 people
  • close 166 media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, TV and radio stations
  • block 100,000 websites
  • shut down 1,719 civil society organizations

Not surprisingly, 65 percent of Turks say they fear that “expressing political views online could cause trouble with authorities.”

Erdogan has said sinister deep-state forces, followers of former ally Fethullah Gulen, European leaders, the United States, and foreign credit agencies all want to undermine him and his country.

Election timing: Turkey’s decade of economic success turned sharply south after 2013. Double-digit inflation and a currency in turmoil are now top of mind for Turkey’s president and its people. This election wasn’t due until next year, but Erdogan, aware that a bad economy will probably get worse, decided to force this vote sooner rather than later.

The opposition: Erdogan may want Putin-like powers, but Turkey is not Russia. Opinions of Erdogan are split evenly across the country, and the political opposition is more united than at any time in many years. Muharrem Ince, candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has the best shot to beat Erdogan.

Given Erdogan’s thin-skinned reputation, it matters that Ince is smart, likable, outspoken, and has a sense of humor. He promises if elected to abolish a law making it a crime to insult the president and to convert the Erdogan-ordered $600 million presidential palace into a science center.

Crucially, the CHP has formed an alliance with the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party, which cuts into Erdogan’s popularity from the right, and an Islamist splinter party called Saadet.

The stakes: Erdogan narrowly won his April 2017 referendum, probably by cheating, but the new powers it grants to the office of the presidency — to issue decrees with the force of law and pack the courts with loyalists, for example — don’t take effect until after this election. There is growing concern that Erdogan will cheat again to win this weekend. He leads in the polls, but his margin is shrinking.

If opposition parties win control of parliament on Sunday and Erdogan must face a second round (on July 8), the next two weeks could become violent as the president turns up the rhetorical heat and rival protesters hit the streets.

The bottom line: This election will decide whether the man who has dominated politics in this important country for the past 15 years can extend his power indefinitely. There is a serious risk of confrontation and crisis in coming days.

This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

#Rickyleaks – A spectacular political crisis has erupted in the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico as tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent days to demand the resignation of Governor Ricardo "Ricky" Rosselló. The trigger for the unrest was the leak of hundreds of text messages in which Rosselló and his associates use homophobic and sexist slurs against a wide variety of public officials and journalists—while joking about the death toll from Hurricane Maria. But this outburst of public fury reflects broader frustrations with mismanagement of post-Maria reconstruction, severe cutbacks in social services in response to a debt crisis, and decades of corrupt and detached politicians in charge of the "Island of Enchantment."

Ukraine's Elections – Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president two months ago, but the substantive part of his time in office will begin on Sunday, when elections are held for the Rada, Ukraine's parliament. His Servant of the People party, named for the television show that made Zelensky famous, will likely win more votes than any other. We'll be watching to see its margin of victory and what it reveals about the new president's opportunity to transform Ukraine's politics.

Mexicans' attitudes toward migrants – A new poll from The Washington Post and Mexico's Reforma newspaper finds that more than 60 percent of Mexicans say Central American migrants take jobs and benefits that should go to Mexicans. Nearly as many, 55 percent, support the deportation of migrants back across Mexico's southern border.

Rhino Bonds – The Zoological Society of London and Conservation Capital are running the sale of a $50 million bond to finance expansion of the endangered black rhino population. It's a test case for creation of a wildlife conservation debt market that could be used to protect species facing extinction.

What We're Ignoring:

A manmade Antarctic snowstorm – A report published in the journal Science Advances finds that if we had 12,000 wind turbines to power giant seawater pumps and snow cannons to spray trillions of tons of snow over western Antarctica, we might prevent the collapse of a giant ice sheet that threatens to submerge coastal mega-cities like New York and Shanghai. The study's authors devised this ludicrous proposal as a way to focus people's attention, rather than as a feasible project. But we're ignoring this idea because we don't see the value in another argument that leaves us feeling powerless to deal with an important problem.

5 million: A hacker has stolen the personal and financial information of as many as five million citizens and foreign residents in Bulgaria, a country of about 7 million people. "The state of your cybersecurity is a parody," announced the hacker in an email. It's certainly starting to look that way.

5.1: In 2018, the number of US drug overdose deaths fell for the first time since 1999, according to preliminary data from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research shows 72,224 overdose deaths in 2017 and 68,557 in 2018, a drop of 5.1 percent.

700 Billion: China has lent more than $700 billion to other countries. That's more than double the amount loaned by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund combined and makes China "the world's largest official creditor." A new study suggests that half of that sum is hidden from institutional lenders.

400,000: It took 400,000 people—including engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and others—to send Apollo 11 to the moon and to bring Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins safely home. And while the faces we're most familiar are almost entirely white and male, the larger list of those who made it possible is much more diverse.

This time the field is more crowded with China's growing ambitions throwing US and Russian space dominance into question. Watch the full GZERO World episode: Space Goals and Black Holes