Watchlist: Turmoil in Turkey

Week of December 12th

Chinese President, Xi Jinping.


Gambian President Disputes Election Results

President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia has called into question the validity of their recent presidential election results, disputing the victory of opposition candidate Adama Barrow. The reaction drew criticism from international actors concerned with the country’s democratic process. Jammeh has been in power in Gambia since a coup in 1994, and subsequently won reelection campaigns in 2001, 2006, and 2011. Some of these elections drew accusations of political intimidation and various rights abuses. During his administration, the president has overseen the suppression of journalists and the many disappearances of opposing politicians. Barrow, leading a coalition of opposition parties, defeated the incumbent president by a narrow margin at the beginning of this month. Jammeh began the process of challenging the election in the nation’s courts, citing “abnormalities” in the vote. The Security Council has called for a peaceful transition of power, as the country hopes for a truly democratic result from their current president’s challenge. Gambians must now wait to see if the new vote will be allowed. The outcome of this dispute will likely influence future elections in Gambia and Africa as a whole, as both internal and external forces pressure politicians to accept the results of democratically held elections. JAKE LOCKLEDGE


China’s Call for University Control

In the latest attempt to control academic freedom, China’s president Xi Jinping is pushing for the country’s universities to embody the ideologies of the Communist Party. Ever since Mr. Xi became leader in 2012, Beijing has been gradually cracking down on free speech. Chinese authorities have been accused of detaining and jailing people promoting human rights, lawyers, and journalists. Although China has long promoted political education classes at universities, quite a few professors complained earlier this year that students were becoming brainwashed by theories of the Western world. A state news agency called Xinhua explained that Mr. Xi believes that because the universities are under the leadership of the Communist Party, they must be socialist colleges. This call for higher education to be guided by Marxism has many students in fear of further loss of their academic freedoms. No new legislation has directly been passed regarding these claims, but university students still remain anxious about the future of their studies. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to discover whether China is able to institute such curtails of academic freedom into the country’s legislation. SANURI GUNAWARDENA


Devaluation and Hyperinflation of Venezuela’s Currency

The recession in Venezuela has caused its currency, the Bolivar, to fall as much as 60% in less than a month, the worst in history. This is contributing to the massive shortage of consumer goods and basic necessities and greatly weakened the strength of the Venezuelan people, especially its once-burgeoning middle class. President Nicolas Maduro is being blamed for the devaluation of the currency in addition to allowing corruption and ineffective leadership to further add to the turmoil in Venezuela. The nation also refuses to release public figures on the rate of inflation to its populace, though a Venezuelan ex-pat in Alabama who works at Home Depot has been releasing numbers through an illegal site called Currently, the situation is so bad that many businesses are not bothering to count money, but are instead weighing it on scales to determine how much is present. It is unclear if more inflation will occur or if proper change will come to the nation so strapped for cash. ANDREW MITCHEL


Turkey’s Controversial Move to Consolidate Power

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Saturday his government submitted a bill that would overhaul the Constitution to consolidate executive powers under the office of the President, a controversial move many are calling a referendum on Erdogan’s leadership itself. The bill includes provisions allowing the president to run his own cabinet and widely govern by decree. Current polls and parliamentary makeup suggest the AKP and opposition MHP have enough seats to pass the law, although wavering party loyalty could defeat the initiative. If it passes parliament, the law would go to a national referendum next summer. Yet public success is also uncertain, as Erdogan’s current opinion polls remain vulnerable 55%. The announcement comes amid heightened security and economic tensions in Turkey. The day the bill was introduced, the TAK, a faction linked to the PKK, claimed responsibility for bombings in Istanbul that killed 38 civilians. While there is no evidence suggesting the attacks were in response to the announcement, many have predicted the bill will further destabilize the already vulnerable country, leading to more internal violence. Others suggest the bill will provide short-term stability and expedite actions to ensure civilian safety. Regardless, Turkey’s future remains uncertain. MEGS ROWLEY

Middle East

ISIS Recaptures Ancient City of Palmyra

ISIS militants recaptured Palmyra from Syrian government forces on Sunday, days after they built up forces on the outskirts of the ancient city. Palmyra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one of the most extensive collections of Roman ruins, had previously been under ISIS control in 2015. Under ISIS rule, militants executed the city’s antiquities director and destroyed a number of the site’s key archaeological features, including a highly treasured 2,000 year-old lion statue. The Syrian government reasserted control over the city in early 2016, but Damascus’s attention turned elsewhere, particularly as its forces make a final push to capture the pivotal city of Aleppo. The loss of the city is a huge blow to the regime’s momentum, especially given its recent military successes in the north of the country. The recapture of the city has come at a critical time for ISIS. Suffering a series of territorial defeats in both Iraq and Syria since 2014, ISIS has been searching for military victories, which in turn embolden their propaganda campaigns to recruit additional fighters. As ISIS militants return to Palmyra this week, the city’s priceless artifacts will indeed be under threat once again, but perhaps what should draw equal attention is the significance of the recapture for ISIS’s momentum: Any short-term military successes could mean long-term consequences for the group’s sustainability. ALI N. HABHAB

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