Shortcuts / 12 November 2019

World Leaders: Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Modi

Three world leaders who are in the news a lot are the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, and India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi… Here, we take a closer at who they are, how they came to power, their politics and just why they’re in the news all the time.

Personal details : 64yo. Muslim.

Family: The eldest of three children, Erdogan was born on the Black Sea Coast as the son of a coastguard before the family moved to Istanbul. He is married to 64yo Emine, with whom he has two daughters and two sons. 

Education: Erdogan studied Business Administration at the Aksaray School of Economics and Commercial Sciences. However, both his attendance and his graduation at the school have been called into question. 

Political dates: President since August 2014. Prime Minister from 2003-2014. Mayor of Istanbul 1994-1998. 

The pitch: “From humble beginnings Recep Tayyip Erdogan has grown into a political giant, reshaping Turkey more than any leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the revered father of the modern republic.” BBC

What’s his style of politics?
Erdogan calls himself a conservative democrat (a term coined by his Justice and Development Party, the AKP), others say his leadership style is in the ‘strongman’ mold.

Promoting socially conservative and liberal economic policies, Erdogan has restricted access to alcohol and abortions, repealed a ban on wearing headscarves in public institutions, and says adultery should be criminalised. While many in Turkey praise Erdogan’s agenda, others say he’s an autocrat who harshly suppresses dissent by throwing tens of thousands of his political opponents and journalists in detention. In particular, Erdogan’s Islamist political roots have been criticised by those who are concerned he may threaten Turkey’s secularism, which is enshrined in its constitution.

Despite his own conservative views, Erdogan has always publically maintained his commitment to secularism in Turkey, but supports citizen’s rights to openly express their religion. 

What lead him to politics?
Erdogan has had a lifetime in politics, aside from a stint as a semi-professional football player. He became involved in politics joining the anti-communist National Turkey Student Union. He then worked in and around politics pursuing an Islamist agenda – something difficult in Turkey given its long-standing commitment to secularism. 

How did he get to power?
A member of a couple of Islamist parties throughout the 70s and 80s, Erdogan was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994, where he successfully addressed some of the city’s problems including pollution, traffic jams and water shortages. But his was the election of the first-ever Islamist to the mayoralty, and it shook the secularist establishment.

He was convicted for inciting religious hatred, forced to resign as mayor, and spent four months in jail in 1999. The party he belonged to was declared unconstitutional, and Erdogan became a prominent speaker against the move. 

In 2001, Erdogan helped form a new party – the AKP. And he was successful in the 2002 national elections but barred from taking office because of his conviction.  This was overturned in 2003 he won a by-election, and became PM. In those days, being PM was the power position. 

Barred by his party’s rules from seeking a fourth term as prime minister, Erdogan ran for the largely ceremonial role of president in 2014, and turned it into the country’s top political role. 

In mid- 2016, Erdogan survived a coup attempt including military personnel who accused him and the AKP of undermining democracy and damaging the rule of law in Turkey. Nearly 300 people were killed in the violence; thousands of soldiers and civil servants were removed from their jobs; others were sent to prison for their alleged sympathies with the coup.

Erdogan won a referendum in 2017 to increase the president’s powers. And he won the presidential election in 2018. 

What’s his broad agenda?
Democracy – In Erdogan’s early political career, he famously said “democracy is like a train; you get off once you have reached your destination.” 

Economy – While his earlier political career was characterised by significant economic growth and the substantial development of infrastructure and services, a recent financial crisis has seen Turkey’s economy in decline. The crisis, which has also been deepened by recent trade wars with the US.

Security/Terrorism – Erdogan has taken a hardline stance on terrorism (which has been an issue in the region) killing hundreds of people, some due to clashes between Kurdish military groups and Turkish authorities, as well as attacks by the Islamic State. Since 2017, tens of thousands of people including politicians and journalists have been charged with terrorism and have been jailed, or threatened with jail. 

Why is he in the news?
Ergodan is currently under international scrutiny after he sent Turkish troops into northern Syria after the US pulled its troops from the border. The Turks have always had a troubled relationship with Kurdish people, an ethnic minority who Turkey considers to be a threat to national security. 

Personal details : 64yo. Catholic. 

Family: One of six kids, he grew up in Eldorado (in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest), a town of 15,000 people where his father worked as an unqualified dentist. Bolsonaro is on his third marriage and has five children (four sons and a daughter). His current wife Michelle is 37yo (and Bolsonaro thinks she is more attractive than French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife…). 

Education: Bolsonaro attended the Preparatory School of the Brazilian Army and graduated from the Military Academy in the late 70s. 

Political dates: President since 1 January 2019. Member of the Brazilian national legislature from 1991-2018. 

The pitch: Controversial, bombastic, the “Trump of the Tropics”.

What’s his style of politics?
Jair Bolsonaro is a divisive far-right firebrand and self-styled political outsider. He’s a fan of the previously the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985, and which killed and disappeared its critics. He’s also a self-declared homophobe, and considered by many to be sexist and racist. 

What lead him to politics?
He served in the army for more than 15 years (including a stint as a paratrooper) rising to the rank of captain. While in the Army, Bolsonaro wrote an article that was critical of the military’s pay system. It earned him condemnation from his superiors but he was celebrated by his fellow officers and military families. This experience paved the way into politics. 

Leaving the army in 1988, he was elected to the Rio de Janeiro city council in 1989. And in 1991 he made the jump to federal politics winning a seat representing Rio de Janeiro in the Chamber of Deputies that he would hold for seven consecutive terms, switching parties regularly. 

How did he get to power?
For more than 20 years he was a low key, unremarkable politician, who was not well known outside of Rio until 2014. That’s when he told colleagues he harboured presidential ambitions to fight “the criminals from the left,” referring to the Workers’ Party, which was in power at the time.

In January 2018, Bolsonaro switched parties to join the Social Liberal Party, and he was made their presidential candidate in mid-2018 with the election held October. During his campaign, he was dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” with many comparing his anti-establishment populist style and social media presence to that of US President Donald Trump. 

Of note: Bolsonaro was stabbed in the abdomen while campaigning and interacting with supporters by a man deemed to be mentally ill. Bolsonaro suffered a deep and life-threatening wound to his intestines and lost 40% of his blood.

The incident only seemed to bolster his appeal, and Bolsonaro went on to win 55% of the vote in a runoff against Fernando Haddad of the leftist Workers’ Party (PT). And in January 2019, he was sworn in as the 38th president of Latin America’s largest democracy. 

What’s his broad agenda?
Environment – Bolsonaro is firmly of the view that environmental regulations hinder Brazil’s economic development. He threatened to pull Brazil out of the Paris climate accord, but ultimately stayed in. 

Economy – “I really don’t understand much about the economy,” Bolsonaro once admitted. Even though he’s previously voted with the Workers Party against privatisation of the oil and telecom industries, he has undergone a shift in favour of the free market.

Crime – “A policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman,” Bolsonaro said last year. Brazil’s gangland turf wars over drugs and other contraband in Brazilian cities saw homicides hit a record high of 63,880 in 2017 – nearly twice the number in the United States and the European Union combined. Bolsonaro’s solution is zero tolerance.

Why is he in the news?
His handling of fires in the Amazon. Bolsonaro is a powerful supporter of agribusiness who has also come out strongly against lands reserved for indigenous tribes. Brazil is the guardian of the world’s largest rainforest in the Amazon basin. Land-clearing fires have been a big issue this year, peakin in August when there were thousands of individual fires. World leaders got involved because the Amazon is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. However, Bolsonaro chafed at foreign pressure to safeguard it. 

Personal details: 69yo; Adherent of Hindutva (an ideology that states that India is the homeland of the Hindus)

Family: One of six children, his father was a tea salesman. His caste was classified as a “Other Backward Class”, meaning he was seen as educationally and financially disadvantaged. As was the custom, he married when he was 18yo to a 16yo girl. The remain married but have been estranged for decades.

Education: Modi received his university degrees in political science in his late 20s, and early 30s. 

Political dates: PM since 2014; Chief Minister of Gujarat state 2001-2014

The pitch: A polarising politician – loved and loathed in equal measure.

What’s his style of politics?
He exercises a brand of ‘muscular Hindu nationalism’ that sometimes jars with the constitutional requirement for a secular government. The party he leads, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has made nationalism and national security its main planks. That’s left Modi and the party open to criticism about the treatment of the country’s Muslim minority. 

What lead him to politics?
Modi became politically active at the age of 8yo. Good at debating in school, Modi joined the youth wing of the RSS – a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation that is widely regarded as the parent organisation of the BJP.

An organiser for the opposition to the ruling political parties since the 70s, Modi rose through the ranks to lead the organisational wing of the BJP.

How did he get to power?
Modi took the step into representative politics as chief minister of the state of Gujarat in 2001. In 2002, riots that killed 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus and drove 150,000 people into refugee camps became a stain on his record with criticism that Modi didn’t do enough to stop the bloodshed. 

He was named the BJP’s candidate for PM. Many party were concerned about his candidacy, but many voters supported him because of his track record of economic growth in Gujarat. The campaign also dialled up his commitment to secular government and dialled down concerns about protections for religious minorities. 

The country’s first national leader from outside India’s political elite, Modi again surpassed expectations winning another term in 2019.

What’s his broad agenda?
Centralising power – Civil service and judicial appointments as well as the levers of the economy are being shifted to come under the control of the executive government. Investigations in government departments and organisations were launched. Cases of sedition were also filed against individuals for criticising the government. 

Economic development – Modi has championed the privatisation and liberalisation of India’s economy – to a point. Anti-union legislation and cuts to welfare have also been a hallmark of Modi’s leadership. He’s championed development initiatives including greater internet access and access to electricity and energy sources. 

Toilets – Modi’s decision to fund the construction of toilets in villages across the country to end open defecation was largely praised – although reports say persuading people to use them remains a work in progress.

Why is he in the news?
The troubles in Kashmir and with Pakistan. Modi made a controversial move in August 2019 to tighten the Indian government’s control over the part of Kashmir it administers. In the new arrangement, Jammu and Kashmir is one territory, and Ladakh, which borders China, is separate. The two new union territories are now ruled directly from the capital Delhi. The region has long been one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints with both India and Pakistan claiming the Muslim-dominated Kashmir in full, but with each controing only parts of it.

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