September 28. 2023. 5:42

The Daily

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The Brief — Who wants to rule forever?

As expected, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won himself another five-year mandate on Sunday, in a vote seen by many as an endorsement of his 20 years in power. And he is not the only leader clinging on to power for too long.

Barring a miracle, next year Vladimir Putin is likely to be re-elected as president in a similar way with – we take the liberty to predict – a bigger percentage, and continue his long tsardom. And in the EU, nobody and nothing prevents Viktor Orbán from staying on as Hungary’s prime minister in the foreseeable future.

Both Turkey and Russia have changed their constitutions to allow for their respective presidents to stay longer in power. The Russian Constitution was amended in 2020 to reset the number of terms Putin has served, allowing him to circumvent term limits in the 2024 and 2030 elections and enabling him to legally stay in office until 2036.

In the case of Turkey, under the previous Constitution, which Erdogan amended in 2017, the president was limited to two five-year terms but it was decided that if the parliament calls early elections during the second term, the president may run for a third term.

This is what happened. Turkish bloggers say that if Erdogan wants to stay on after 2028, he will find a way.

Changing the constitution to allow a president to stay longer seems to be contagious. Uzbekistan changed its constitution three weeks ago to allow the incumbent president to rule until 2040.

Orbán doesn’t even need to change the constitution. Hungary’s president has a largely ceremonial role, while the prime minister is clearly the one pulling the strings. And there are no limitations to being re-elected as prime minister.

In Serbia, Alexander Vučić has been in power since 2014, first as prime minister, and since 2017 as president, having been reelected in 2022 among accusations of growing authoritarianism.

Of course, Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and Serbia – not to mention Uzbekistan — are very different countries. But there is also an important similarity.

In all these countries, press freedom is problematic, to say the least.

Russia ranks 164th among the 180 countries surveyed in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Turkey is 165th, Serbia is 92nd and Hungary 72nd, not a great score for an EU member. Uzbekistan is 137th.

“Authoritarianism is gaining ground in Türkiye, challenging media pluralism. All possible means are used to undermine critics”, RSF wrote.

Can elections be considered fair if 90% of the national media are now under government control, as RSF assessed?

“Tactics such as near systematic censorship on the internet, frivolous lawsuits against critical media outlets or the misuse of the judicial system have, until now, enabled Erdoğan to restore his popularity rating, while he continues to be embroiled in a major case of corruption and political clientelism”, the Turkey country report says.

In Russia, since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared “foreign agents” or “undesirable organisations”. All others are subject to military censorship, RSF wrote.

In Hungary, Orbán, whom RSF has labelled a press freedom predator, has built a media empire whose outlets toe his party line. Independent media maintain positions in the market, but they are subject to political, economic, and regulatory pressures.

And in Serbia, quality journalism, which investigates crime and corruption, is caught between rampant fake news spread by muckraking tabloids and government propaganda. In recent days, following two cases of shocking mass shootings, protesters blamed the deaths on a culture of violence promulgated by a press supportive of Vučić.

When media freedom disappears, it is replaced with state propaganda and nothing can prevent manipulations which allow authoritarian leaders to win or falsify elections. Clearly, the EU is not immune to such scenarios.

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The Roundup

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a snap election for 23 July on Monday after his ruling socialist party suffered a crushing defeat in local elections over the weekend.

Kazakhstan is putting legal instruments in place to recover illegally acquired assets, including assets abroad, two high-level officials told EURACTIV, adding that not all EU countries are cooperating.

The Greens campaign strategy will have a strong European focus when compared with the other political parties, Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens/EFA group at European Parliament told EURACTIV.

The EU Commission expects agreement in the European Union this year on the first Artificial Intelligence (AI) law, although it admits the new rules will not come into force until 2025, Digital Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an interview.

Look out for…

  • Agriculture and Fisheries Council on Tuesday.
  • General Affairs Council.
  • Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen meets UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed in New York, Tuesday-Wednesday.

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