Merkel’s Conservatives Widen Lead 5 Months Before German Vote

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats have opened a seven-point lead over the center-left Social Democrats five months ahead of the Sept. 24 election, according to a poll on Sunday in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The Emnid institute survey found the Christian Democrats and their Christian Social Union allies winning 36 percent of the vote if the election were held on Sunday, unchanged from a similar Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag taken a week ago.

But the Social Democrats (SPD), led by their chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, continued to slide and lost two percentage points in the week to 29 percent. The CDU/CSU long held a comfortable lead in polls until Schulz was nominated in early 2017 and lifted the SPD to the same levels as the CDU/CSU.

The latest poll, taken just one week before an important state election in Schleswig-Holstein, also showed the CDU/CSU’s preferred coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), rising one point to 6 percent in the last week.

The center-right alliance would still be well short of winning a majority in parliament with 42 percent.

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) would win 9 percent, unchanged over the week. All parties have said they will not join forces with the AfD, making it more difficult to form the next government.

The SPD’s preferred partner, the Greens, rose 1 point to 7 percent in the last week. The far-left Linke party would win an unchanged 9 percent, according to the latest Emnid poll. The so-called “red-red-green” alliance of SPD, Linke and Greens would also fall short of a majority with 45 percent.

The CDU/CSU and SPD currently lead Germany in a grand coalition government. Both parties have said they do not want to continue that arrangement after the Sept. 24 election.


FIFA Official Sheikh Ahmad Resigning Amid Bribery Claims

FIFA Council member Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of Kuwait is resigning from his soccer roles under pressure from allegations in an American federal court that he bribed Asian officials.

Sheikh Ahmad said Sunday in a statement he will withdraw from a May 8 election in Bahrain for the FIFA seat representing Asia, which he currently holds.

“I do not want these allegations to create divisions or distract attention from the upcoming AFC [Asian Football Confederation] and FIFA Congresses,” said the Kuwaiti royal, who denies any wrongdoing.

“Therefore, after careful consideration, I have decided it is in the best interests of FIFA and the AFC, for me to withdraw my candidacy for the FIFA Council and resign from my current football positions,” he said.

The long-time Olympic Council of Asia president contacted the ethics panels of FIFA and the IOC after the allegations were made in Brooklyn federal courthouse on Thursday.

FIFA audit committee member Richard Lai, an American citizen from Guam, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges related to taking around $1 million in bribes, including from Kuwaiti officials. The cash was to buy influence and help recruit other Asian soccer officials prepared to take bribes, Lai said in court.

Sheikh Ahmad resigned his candidacy ahead of a FIFA panel deciding whether to remove him on ethical grounds.

The FIFA Review Committee, which rules on the integrity of people seeking senior FIFA positions, has been studying the sheikh’s candidacy since the allegations emerged, The Associated Press reported on Saturday.

The FIFA ethics committee is making a separate assessment of whether to provisionally suspend the sheikh, a long-time leader of Kuwait’s soccer federation who was elected to FIFA’s ruling committee in 2015.

Resigning from his soccer positions does not necessarily put Sheikh Ahmad out of reach of FIFA ethics prosecutors and judges if any action was taken.

In 2012, former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar was banned for life by the ethics committee days after he resigned.

Bin Hammam was also clearly identified in Lai’s court hearing for having paid Lai a total of $100,000 in bribes to support the Qatari’s failed challenge to FIFA’s then-president Sepp Blatter in 2011. Bin Hammam was removed from that election contest in a Caribbean bribery case.

Sheikh Ahmad has also contacted the IOC’s ethics commission about the allegations against him, the IOC said on Saturday.

As president since 2012 of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, Sheikh Ahmad’s support has often been cited as key to winning Olympic election and hosting awards. The sheikh was widely credited for helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency in 2013.

Although Sheikh Ahmad was not named in Department of Justice and court documents last week, he has become one of the most significant casualties of the sprawling U.S. federal investigation of bribery and corruption in international soccer revealed two years ago.

The sheikh could be identified in a transcript of Lai’s court hearing which said “co-conspirator [hash]2 was also the president of Olympic Council of Asia.” Sheikh Ahmad has been OCA president since 1991.

Co-conspirator #3 was described as having a “high-ranking” role at OCA, and also linked to the Kuwait soccer federation.

According to the published transcript, Lai claimed he “received at least $770,000 in wire transfers from accounts associated with Co-Conspirator [hash]3 and the OCA between November of 2009 and about the fall of 2014.”

“I understood that the source of this money was ultimately Co-Conspirator #2 and on some occasion Co-Conspirator #3 told me to send him an email saying that I need funds so he could show the email to Co-Conspirator #2,” Lai said in court.

Lai admitted that he agreed to help recruit other Asian officials that voted in FIFA elections who would help Kuwait’s interests.

The Guam soccer federation leader since 2001, Lai pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. He agreed to pay more than $1.1 million in forfeiture and penalties, and will be sentenced at a later date.

The American federal investigation of corruption linked to FIFA has indicted or taken guilty pleas from more than 40 people and marketing agencies linked to soccer in the Americas since 2015.

Lai’s case marked the first major step into Asia, and suggests other soccer officials potentially recruited by the Kuwait faction could be targeted.

The Asian election for FIFA seats on May 8 in Manama, Bahrain, is the same day as a FIFA Council meeting which the sheik will not attend. The FIFA congress is held in the city three days later.


Pope Calls for End to Violence, Respect for Human Rights, in Venezuela

Pope Francis called on Sunday for the respect of human rights and an end to violence in Venezuela, where nearly 30 people were killed in unrest this month.

Francis, speaking to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly address, decried a “grave humanitarian, social , political and economic crisis that is exhausting the population”.

Venezuela’s opposition is demanding elections, autonomy for the legislature where they have a majority, a humanitarian aid channel from abroad to alleviate an economic crisis, and freedom for more than 100 activists jailed by President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to the government and all components of Venezuelan society to avoid any more forms of violence, respect human rights and seek a negotiated solution …,” he said.

Supporters say Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed head of the hardline opposition Popular Will party, and others are political prisoners whose arrests symbolize Maduro’s lurch into dictatorship.

Maduro says all are behind bars for legitimate crimes, and calls Lopez, 45, a violent hothead intent on promoting a coup.

Vatican-led talks between the government and the opposition have broken down.

Francis told reporters on the plane returning from Cairo on Saturday that “very clear conditions” were necessary for the talks to resume.


Macedonian Politicians Turn Parliament Violence in War of Words

Macedonia’s rival parties are trading blame for violence in parliament, while world powers are giving opposing reactions to the events.

The European Union and the United States condemned Thursday’s attack, in which protesters stormed the Macedonian parliament in Skopje, attacking opposition lawmakers after they elected an ethnic Albanian speaker.

Russia blamed the events on the West, saying it had meddled in the Balkan nation’s internal affairs.

Pointing fingers

In Macedonia, the previous night’s violence turned into a war of words between rival politicians on Friday.

Zoran Zaev, the head of the opposition Social Democrats, who were targeted in the attack, accused the attackers of attempted murder.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose supporters were among the mob that stormed the parliament, said he deplored the violence, but he accused the opposition of instigating it with an attempted power grab.

Interior Minister Agim Nuhiu announced his resignation Friday over the night’s events. He told reporters that 10 lawmakers and an unspecified number of journalists were among those hurt.

The interior ministry said 102 people were treated at city hospitals.

Speaker election

The violence began Thursday after lawmakers from the Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties elected former Defense Minister Talat Xhaferi speaker, even though the country has no functioning government.

Demonstrators stormed the parliament and began throwing chairs and attacking opposition lawmakers.

Demonstrators blocked the door of the chamber, refusing to let lawmakers leave as demonstrators waved flags in lawmakers’ faces and shouted “traitors.” Police outside the building fired stun grenades to break up the crowd.



Zaev’s Social Democrats and the ethnic Albanians would have enough seats to form a coalition government, but President Gjorge Ivanov has refused to give him a mandate.

The conservatives won December’s parliamentary election, but without enough seats to form a government. Coalition talks with other parties collapsed over ethnic Albanian demands to make Albanian an official language.

International reaction

The United States condemned Thursday’s violence “in the strongest terms.” In a statement posted on its State Department website, the U.S. Embassy in Skopje said the violence “is not consistent with democracy and is not an acceptable way to resolve differences.”

The U.S. called on all parties to “refrain from violent actions which exacerbate the situation.”

The European Union also condemned Thursday’s violence. 

“I condemn the attacks on MPs in Skopje in the strongest terms. Violence has no place in parliament,” enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said. “Democracy must run its course.”

However, Russia blamed the events on the West, saying the Macedonian opposition had “foreign patrons.”

A Foreign Ministry statement said Xhaferi’s election was an “unceremonious manipulation of the will of citizens” and said EU and U.S. representatives were quick to recognize the speaker, indicating the vote was planned in advance.

The United Nations said in a statement by the U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman that it is “following developments unfolding in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia with great concern and call for restraint and calm. Violence directed at democratic institutions and elected representatives of the people is unacceptable.”

Macedonia has a Slavic majority, but about a third of the population is ethnic Albanian. The Balkan country aspires to join the European Union and NATO.


French National Front Has Third Leader in One Week

France’s far-right National Front, the party of presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, has replaced its leader for the second time in three days.

Jean-Francois Jalkh, who was named interim president of the party on Tuesday after Le Pen stepped down, was forced to vacate the office in response to allegations he praised a Holocaust denier. He also expressed doubts about the reality of Nazi gas chambers, which killed millions of Jews during World War II.

Jalkh is being replaced by Steeve Briois. Each has served as one of the party’s five vice presidents.

Another party vice president, Louis Aliot — Marine Le Pen’s partner — told reporters that Briois would take over the interim leadership and “there’ll be no more talk about it.”

It is a blow to the campaign of Le Pen, who had a better-than-expected showing in French elections on Sunday and faces a runoff with centrist rival Emmanuel Macron on May 7.

Le Pen raised controversy earlier in the campaign by saying France was not responsible for the roundup and demise of thousands of Parisian Jews during World War II.

Ironically, she expelled her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, from the party in 2015 because he referred to the Holocaust as a “detail of history.”

Macron is expected to win the May 7 runoff, but experts say an unexpected voter turnout could rock the results to one side or the other.


Medvedev’s Popularity Sinks Amid May Day Politics in Russia

The independent Russian television channel Dozhd (Rain) reported Friday that the central executive committee of the country’s ruling party, United Russia, had distributed to its regional branches a list of 36 slogans that party activists should use during party activities next week marking the annual May Day holiday.

While, according to Dozhd, the slogans include some praising the country’s president (“Putin is for the People, He is Leading Russia to Success!”) and others condemning corruption (“Praise Honesty, Jail Bribe-takers!”), none of them refers to the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, who happens to be United Russia’s formal head.


The likely reason for that omission is not hard to figure out: Medvedev has seen his popularity drop sharply since early March, when anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny published a video investigation into the prime minister’s alleged wealth. It offered viewers shots of yachts, villas, and even a winery in a picturesque Italian village, all allegedly belonging to Medvedev.

A survey released Thursday by the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent national polling agency, found that Medvedev’s “trust” rating had fallen to a record low since Navalny’s video was posted and viewed more than 20 million times.

Bloomberg News, citing two Medvedev “allies,” reported this week that he “is more worried than ever about his political future.”

The news agency quoted President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as brushing aside the drop in Medvedev’s approval, saying “ratings go up and down, that’s a normal process.”

Still, Peskov declined to say whether the prime minister still “enjoys Putin’s full trust,” Bloomberg reported.

The prime minister has become a lightning rod for Russian anger over official malfeasance. On March 26, an estimated 60,000 people answered Navalny’s call and took to the streets in more than 80 Russian cities to protest corruption. Many protesters mocked Medvedev’s taste for expensive athletic shoes by hanging sneakers on street lamps.

Medvedev finally responded to Navalny’s video in early April. He claimed, among other things, that the allegations of corruption cited in the video were based on “nonsense” about “acquaintances and people that I have never even heard of.” He also obliquely referred to Navalny as “a political opportunist” who is trying to seize power.

Meanwhile, another Levada poll published this week found that 45 percent of respondents would like to see Medvedev dismissed as prime minister, up sharply from the 33 percent who felt that way last November.

Medvedev’s press secretary, Natalya Timakova, a former Kremlin pool reporter, called the Levada poll a “political hit job.”


British Economy Slows as Brexit Vote Boosts Inflation

Britain’s economy slowed sharply in the first three months of 2017 as higher inflation, boosted by last year’s Brexit vote, hit spending on the high street and hurt other consumer-focused businesses.

With the country heading for an election June 8, there were other signs Friday of a slowdown in the economy as house prices fell for a second month and measures of consumer confidence fell.

The Office for National Statistics said growth in the overall economy weakened to a one-year low of 0.3 percent in the January-March period from 0.7 percent in the last three months of 2016.

That represented a sharper slowdown in the rate of quarterly gross domestic product growth than the drop to 0.4 percent forecast by economists in a Reuters poll.

Last year, on par with Germany

Last year, Britain vied with Germany to be the fastest growing of the world’s major advanced economies with annual growth of 1.8 percent, defying widespread predictions of recession after the vote to leave the European Union.

But Friday’s figures are the clearest sign so far that the country is slowing in the run-up to the early election called by Prime Minister Theresa May.

British finance minister Philip Hammond said the economy remained resilient.

Fair to blame Brexit

But Alan Clarke, an economist at Scotiabank, said he expected it would slow further in the coming months.

“This weakness is likely to be blamed on Brexit. That is probably fair,” Clarke said, citing higher inflation.

“We see the trough in growth at 0.2 percent quarter-on-quarter towards the end of this year, when the squeeze from inflation is at its most intense,” he added.

The June 2016 Brexit vote led to a big fall in the value of sterling, which is now starting to push up inflation and eat into consumers’ disposable income.

The ONS said the biggest drag to first-quarter growth came from retailers and hotels, which had been hurt by higher prices.

Official data last week showed the biggest quarterly fall in retail sales since 2010.

Consumer price inflation is rising at its fastest since September 2013 as companies pass on increased costs caused by sterling’s slide in value since the Brexit vote, and many economists expect it to hit 3 percent later this year.

Despite the pick-up in inflation, the Bank of England is widely expected to keep interest rates at their record low of 0.25 percent as it waits to see the full impact of Brexit on the country’s economy.


Stockholm Truck Attack Toll Rises to Five

A woman in her 60s who was injured in the April 7 truck attack in Stockholm has died, Swedish authorities said Friday, raising the death toll to five.

The Stockholm police said in a statement the woman, who has not been publicly identified, had been hospitalized in southern Sweden.

Other victims of attack were an 11-year-old Swedish girl, a 31-year-old Belgian woman, a 69-year-old Swedish woman, and a 41-year-old Briton whom the British government identified as Chris Bevington. Fourteen others were injured in the attack.

A 39-year-old Uzbek man, Rakhmat Akilov, has pleaded guilty to a terrorist crime for ramming the truck into a crowd on a main pedestrian shopping street in the Swedish capital. Police have not disclosed a motive for the attack and no extremist group has claimed responsibility for it.

Akilov’s Swedish residency application was rejected last year, but police said there was nothing to indicate he might plan an attack. After the rejection, Akilov had been been ordered to leave Sweden in December. Instead, he allegedly eluded authorities’ attempts to track him down.

Akilov was caught in a northern suburb of Stockholm, hours after he drove the stolen beer truck into the crowd of afternoon shoppers outside the Ahlens store.

The attack shocked Sweden, known for its welcoming policy toward migrants and refugees.

In 2015, a record 163,000 asylum-seekers arrived in the country, the highest per-capita rate in Europe. The government responded by tightening border controls and curtailing some immigrant rights.


British Police Say Raids Break up Terror Plot

British counterterror police have shot a woman and arrested six people in raids in London and southeastern England. A senior officer said Friday the arrests disrupted an active terrorist plot.


The woman in her 20s is in serious but stable condition in a hospital after the raid on a house in Willesden, northwest London, the Metropolitan Police said Friday.


In footage shot by a witness, what sounds like several shots ring out as police surround the row house Thursday evening. 

Woman in hospital, not arrested


Police said the injured woman was the subject of an ongoing investigation. She is under police guard but has not been arrested.


A 20-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy were arrested at that address, as was a 20-year-old man nearby. A man and a woman both age 28 were arrested when they returned to the house later.


A 43-year-old woman in Kent county, south of London, was also arrested.


Police say the suspects are being held on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts.


A police statement says the raids were not related to Thursday’s incident near Parliament in which a man was arrested while allegedly carrying large knives in a backpack.

Police say threat contained


Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the Willesden raid disrupted an ongoing plot, but did not elaborate.


Basu said that in both the Willesden and Parliament incidents, “we have contained the threat that they posed.”


Britain’s official threat level from international terrorism stands at the second-highest, severe, meaning an attack is highly likely. 


US: More Pressure on Russia Needed to Halt Syrian Conflict

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley ratcheted up her rhetoric against Russia on Thursday, saying more pressure needs to be put on Moscow to stop the war in Syria.

“Many of you said we need to put pressure on the Syrian regime; that’s actually not the case. We need to put pressure on Russia,” Haley told her counterparts on the 15-nation Security Council.

The council was holding its monthly meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria, where U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien told them that at least six hospitals and three schools have been bombed there this month, and a “noose has tightened” around besieged eastern Ghouta, where some 400,000 people have been cut off from U.N. aid convoys since October 2016.

“All eyes and all pressure now need to go to Russia, because they are the ones that could stop this if they wanted to,” Haley said.

The U.S. envoy said the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by its continued protection from Moscow.

“Because Russia continues to cover for the Syrian regime, Russia continues to allow them to keep humanitarian aid from the people that need it, Russia continues to cover for a leader that uses chemical weapons against his own people, Russia continues to veto and Assad continues to do these things, because they know Russia will continue to cover for him,” Haley said.

“I will continue to press the Security Council to act, to do something regardless if the Russians continue to veto it, because it is our voice that needs to be heard,” she added.

Russia has used its veto eight times in the 6-year-long conflict to protect the Assad regime from sanctions and other international action.

Russian response

“The ongoing criticism of the Syrian government and the emotional calls to the country guarantors, including Russia, don’t help anything,” Russia’s acting ambassador Petr Illichev told council members. “We are carrying out our obligations in good faith; there are other important players who are not hurrying to meet us halfway.”

Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, led talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, that led to a cessation of hostilities in December that can be described as shaky at best. But the Russian envoy told council members that, “In Syria as a whole, the cessation of hostilities is holding.”

This despite a poison gas attack earlier this month and ongoing shelling, airstrikes and ground fighting in several parts of the country.

Israeli airstrikes

Earlier Thursday, the Russian government called on Israel and other countries to avoid any actions that may escalate tension in Syria, after Syrian officials accused Israel of conducting airstrikes against an arms supply hub near Damascus International Airport.

“All countries need to refrain from any kind of actions that lead to an increase in tension in this already restive region,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Peskov also said Syria’s sovereignty should be respected.

The arms hub is operated by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Syrian rebel and regional intelligence sources said the strikes targeted weapons that were shipped from Iran on military and commercial cargo planes.

Throughout the Syrian war, which began in March 2011, Israel has made it clear it would not allow shipments of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah units fighting in Syria. Israeli forces have on multiple occasions used airstrikes or other attacks to stop such moves, with the military often declining to confirm it was responsible for the strikes.

Hezbollah and Israel fought each other in the 2006 Lebanon War.

VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to this report.


Greek, Turkish Cypriot Officials Tour Unfinished Crossing

A new crossing point intended to encourage Cyprus’ hoped-for reunification is nearing completion two years after the delay-plagued project was announced, Greek and Turkish Cypriot officials were told Thursday.

The Deryneia crossing, located near the east coast of Cyprus, was hailed as another important milestone in helping to build trust between the ethnically divided island’s breakaway Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots living in the internationally recognized south.

Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci announced the crossing in May 2015, when they launched a new round of negotiations aimed at reunifying Cyprus as a federation.

But there have been delays, and work on the new passageway remains unfinished while troubled reunification talks trudge on.

Slovakia’s ambassador to Cyprus, Oksana Tomova, organized a tour of the crossing point on Thursday, calling the link “one of the most important confidence-building measures agreed by the leaders of the two communities.”

Deryneia would be the eighth such crossing since 2003, when the first cut was made through a U.N.-controlled buffer zone nearly three decades after Cyprus’ was divided. The island’s split came in 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of uniting Cyprus with Greece.

Most of the road work has been finished. But barbed wire, metal obstacles, acacias and other unchecked vegetation still crowd the 150-yard stretch across the no-man’s land that a nearby U.N. guard post oversees.

Deryneia Mayor Andros Karagiannis said the crossing’s opening would be an economic boon for his community by increasing tourist traffic and easing commerce between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish Cypriot Halil Onashi said it would only take “a couple of minutes” to cross southwards from his home instead of having to take a longer, circuitous route through another crossing point.

No one on the tour could explain the reasons behind the delays. But an official with knowledge of the project’s details who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the project said all that remains is for funding to be allocated.

“We want to believe that it’ll open the soonest,” said Averof Neophytou, president of the largest Greek Cypriot political party, the right-wing Democratic Rally. “But it’s not enough to open crossing points after 43 years. … What we want is to reunify our divided country.”

In August 1996, the area where the new crossing will be located was the site of the worst outbreak of violence since the invasion. A Greek Cypriot man taking part in a protest against the island’s division was killed after being attacked by Turkish Cypriots. His cousin was fatally shot trying to take down a Turkish flag at a guard post a couple days later.


Narrow Turkish Referendum Victory Reveals Economic Concerns

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s referendum victory to extend his powers was bittersweet.  

For the first time he lost in Turkey’s main cities, including Istanbul, which has been his electoral power base since 1994.  In the aftermath of his narrow win he has ordered a party investigation into the vote.  The drop in support coincides with an economic slowdown, an ominous sign given the president is facing crucial polls in two years.

Erdogan’s unprecedented electoral successes were largely achieved in a period of economic boom, but those halcyon days appear to be waning.  

“Currently, inflation rate is at 11.3 percent and is expected to increase further to around 12 percent in the coming months,” observes Inan Demir, an economist for Nomura Bank, “It would constitute the highest inflation rate since before the global financial crisis in 2009.  Also, unemployment is at multi-year highs.  So we are talking about a significant jump in the inflation and unemployment rate.”

The impact of the economic slowdown has been felt the most in western Turkey, where more than 70 percent of the country’s economic production is located, and most closely linked to European markets.  The same region saw some of the biggest drops in support for the president in the referendum vote.  While the Turkish economy is predicted to grow faster than that of Europe, it is still below the rate needed to absorb new entrants into the labor market.

Disaffected youth

A striking development of the referendum was the youth vote, overwhelmingly voting no, bucking its traditionally stalwart support for Erdogan.  

“Youth unemployment is affecting the first-time vote.  The youth unemployment ratio was 25 percent, according to the last data, notes Atilla Yesilada, a political consultant with Global Source Partners, “Fifty-eight percent of first-time voters voted “No.” (citing IPSOS research).  According to OECD research, Turkish students are the unhappiest in the world with 72 percent saying they are very unhappy with conditions.  So given Turkey’s very high rate of young population, up to six percent of the voters in the next election cycle, which starts in March 2019, will be first-time voters, which in my view is slipping from their [Erdogan government’s] grasp”.

 2019 is scheduled for an unprecedented three polls – of local, general and presidential elections.

Erdogan’s success in the referendum was due in part to the overwhelmingly support he received in the rural heartland of the country, known as Anatolia, a region that has particularly benefited from the expansion of social security benefits under Erdogan’s AK Party rule.

“I detect that certain voters are becoming clients of AKP, these people can’t survive in the globalized economy of Turkey,” claims consultant Yesilada, “they are largely existing on account of the welfare state and also  AKP has been very successful in imposing the view entitlements are coming form the party, rather than the state.  So a dependency has been created between the poor in Anatolia and AKP, and these are people are so afraid if AKP ever loses they will lose their entitlements.”

In the run-up to the referendum, the government again turned to state intervention, launching major programs of cheap loans for businesses, job creation schemes, and massive public works projects.

Early elections?

Economists predict that with individuals and private companies racked with debt, more state intervention is likely, ”Turkey will find it difficult to sustain that debt-fueled growth, that’s why the public sector will play an increasing role in supporting economic activity going forward.  Personally, I expect elections to be held earlier than the current schedule.  I would not be surprised to see elections by this time next year.  So I think it can be sustained until that time.”

The pressure to call early elections will deepen worries about how the government will fund it’s growing economic and financial programs.  “So [numbers] are simple,” warns Yesilada, “we cant borrow abroad, because it very costly or foreign lenders are no longer willing, and Turkish deposits have been completely converted into loans.  I don’t know how this can go forwards.”  

Given that the bedrock of Erdogan’s electoral success has been built on economic prosperity, the continuation and trajectory of those programs ultimately could determine his fate.