It is about unwanted people.
Who are they?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared ten foreign ambassadors – including seven from the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States – as personas non grata. Such a declaration against a diplomat usually means that an individual is banned from remaining in their host country.
Why did Erdogan do that?
The ambassadors had released a letter urging the Turkish government to release the businessman and human rights defender Osman Kavala. He has been held since 2017 despite not having been convicted of a crime.
Tell me more.
Kavala, 64, was arrested in Istanbul on 18 October 2017 on suspicion of attempting to overthrow Turkey’s government and constitutional order through force and violence. In December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that his detention took place without sufficient evidence that he had committed an offence. The ECHR also found that Mr Kavala’s arrest and pre-trial detention pursued an ulterior purpose: to silence him and to dissuade other human rights defenders.
Why such a sharp reaction from Erdogan?
One reason could be the upcoming presidential elections. “Turkish opposition parties are presenting an increasingly united and organized front aimed at replacing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and even forcing early elections in the coming year to challenge his 19-year rule,” Carlotta Gall, Istanbul bureau chief of The New York Times, writes in the print edition (25 October 2021). The next Turkish parliamentary and presidential election is scheduled to occur on or before 18 June 2023.
So Erdogan has to fear this election?
He has dominated Turkish politics for two decades, but support for his ruling alliance has eroded since the Turkish economy is doing poorly.
What’s the problem?
Mainly high inflation. While the International Monetary Fund projects economic growth of 9 per cent this year in Turkey, inflation is more than doubling that. So people can buy less and less with their money. And the problem has been around for a while. The Turkish currency lira has fallen 50 per cent against the dollar since Erdogan’s last election victory in 2018.
And what does that have to do with the diplomats?
Erdogan probably uses this turmoil to distract from the problems at home and to find a scapegoat for the economic crisis. “He is realizing he won’t be able to turn the economy around, so he will blame the West,” Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute, told the New York Times.
The next election is coming. Hopefully, it will be reasonably fair.
Update: Erdogan appears to have stepped back from his decision.
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