Turkish Presidential Campaigning Begins, Russia’s Cloudy Security Council Presidency, Disney World at 50, and More (2023)

In the coming week, Turkey's presidential candidates begin campaigning. Russia takes its turn as President of the UN Security Council. And, Disney World turns fifty. It's March 30th, 2023 in time for The World Next Week. I am Bob McMahon.

And I'm Carla Anne Robbins.

Carla, let's talk Turkey. Tomorrow marks the official start day for election campaigning. This year, the presidential election has been moved up from June to May. That's even while the country is recovering from its really devastating earthquake and the aftermath of what it means for the displaced populations and so forth. Incumbent President Erdoğan is vying to remain in power, but he's facing a pretty stiff challenge from opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. What can we expect from these campaigns at this point?

So Bob, first a little context. Why should we care about Turkey? So it has a really strategic location. It's on the Black Sea and among its neighbors, it has both Syria and Iraq and it's hosting increasingly uncomfortably, some 3.6 million Syrian refugees. And under Erdoğan, it is the most problematic member of NATO. Today, Thursday, Turkey's parliament is expected to approve Finland's application to join the alliance, but Erdoğan is still blocking Sweden from coming in because of disagreements about the Kurds and after the burning by a Swedish Danish extremist of a Quran outside the Turkish embassy.

And Erdoğan is also far too tight for everybody's taste with Putin. He's especially infuriated the United States in 2020 with a $2.5 billion purchase of an air defense system, a purchase of Pentagon said would lead to data and security breaches. That said, Erdoğan, as we talked about a few weeks ago, brokered the Black Sea grain deal. So everybody's going to be watching this really closely because this guy has a considerable influence in the alliance and considerable influence in the region.

So you asked about the presidential campaign. This is expected to be the most hotly contested one in Turkey since Erdoğan's party, the Islamist based AKP, the Justice and Development Party, came to power in 2002. And twenty years ago, Erdoğan was the underdog. He was the opposition leader. Turkey's military had shut down several of AK's Islamist predecessors. For his first term as PM, he was Prime Minister in those days, Erdoğan pushed forward some democratic reforms. But with time, he has become evermore autocratic, imposing his religious views, jailing journalists, harassing opponents, weakening or shuttering NGOs. This is really the strong man state at this point, harnessing all the institutions to keep the AKP and himself in power.

Erdoğan's opponent is rather uncharismatic, but the Republican People's Party, the CHP has the unified support of the opposition at this point, both the left and the right, and what he's doing is campaigning on a platform of restoring democracy while criticizing Erdoğan who controls the central bank for the country's high inflation rate. It's currently around 55 percent and mishandling of the recent devastating earthquake. The current death toll is an extraordinary 48,000. Erdoğan won easily in 2018, but the bloom has been fading ever since and after the earthquake, several top members of his party reportedly called for the election to be postponed, but Erdoğan believes that his argument is the country needs a tough man, it's in really bad shape, and that he's been great at building infrastructure and that he's going to rebuild that. The opposition says that he's far too close to the construction companies that are blamed for all those buildings falling down and that his time is up.

Carla, your rundown includes all these pillars of democracy being eroded, if not defeated. Journalists and independent journalistic establishment, the courts and so forth. Are we going to see election, an election cycle that can be called free and fair? And if the results come in that are not in Erdoğan favor, will he accept that?

I think most people think that it will be that he's not going to out outrageously steal the election. But in 2019, there were three really important mayoral elections, including in the capital Ankara and in Istanbul. And in Istanbul, when it was really close, he pushed the electoral commission to go for a redo and nobody thought AK had won, but he got his way because he controls these institutions and they did a redo and the AK lost even bigger much to his humiliation. So he controls a lot of institutions. He controls all the big papers. Certainly, lots of things are in his favor, but so far I'm not hearing a lot of people saying that they think he's going to outright steal it, so we'll just have to watch this space here because it is a pretty authoritarian society.

There's been one other development that's really interesting. The polls so far have said the opposition is ahead, but the polls aren't great in Turkey, it's still really far away. It's too early to say, but yesterday on Wednesday, Turkey's main pro-Kurdish party and the Kurds are 10 plus percent of the vote said, it's not going to run its own presidential candidate, and that means that they're going to give their tacit support to the opposition.

Carla, back to the earthquake, when we talked about it after it initially happened and the initial round of criticism, it seemed like it was really stinging to Erdoğan. Do we have any sense whether he is still taking a beating and public opinion over his response? And also the lack of preparation to get ahead of these potential events in a quake zone?

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It's not only the lack of preparation, it's this perception that these are his cronies who built these shoddy buildings and they went out of the way. They've arrested people. But it's very, very hard for a guy who built a lot of infrastructure, this has been one of his big selling points here. It's very hard for him to then now say, I'm not in really tight with the same people who built these buildings that went crashing down. Now, they're making big promises about how much they can build and how quickly they can do it. Right after the earthquake, the first political leader to show up there was the opposition leader, Kılıçdaroğlu. But since then, there have been 300 members of the AK have shown up. They're there certainly blanketing the region pushing that Erdoğan is the guy he knows how to build buildings, forget the fact that they built these buildings really badly, but they're putting a lot into saying we're the ones who can rebuild Turkey and stick with us. But people haven't really forgotten that these were Erdoğan's friends that built these places that came crashing down in the first place.

So Bob, let's zoom out to the intergovernmental level and talk about the United Nations. On April 1st, and this is not a perverse April fool's joke, Russia is going to assume the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. But before we get into that, we need to note that the Russian government has now detained a Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and accused him of espionage, which is another really chilling development here that we're going to have to watch. So given Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the way it has blocked any security council action on the conflict and the recent ICC warrant for Putin's arrest, this is a grim reminder of how the UN's ideals can fly out the window, especially when a P5 member is involved. What can we expect from Russia's tenure for that one month that it has the presidency of the Security Council?

We're going to see some rocky, almost surreal moments given what we've seen so far play out. Let's turn back the clock to the month of the Russian invasion 2022 in February. Russia at the time was presiding over the Security Council and actually presided over a very tense discussion about its own act and Ukraine was invited to sit at the table and discuss and lay blame at Russia's feet. It was also noted that Russia as an active participant in the matter at hand should not have been convening that meeting. But be that as it may, I think we're looking at these theater the absurd type moments that are sure to come up in the council because let's face it, for all of its flaws, it's still the world's single most powerful body convening to discuss matters of international security. One of the biggest ones going on right now is the ongoing war in Ukraine and all of the ramifications of that, including Russia's, let's say, increasing rap list on what it's been involved in.

You noted the detention of the journalist who's by all accounts was going about his work in a proper way. Vladimir Putin's indictment by the ICC for his treatment of Ukrainian children and further ICC investigations underway. Russia has indicated it might even be calling some sort of a meeting involving the issue of Ukrainian children, and that's certain to be some sort of bizarre episode of Russia trying to deflect and misinform on what's going on. But it's going to have this pulpit, it's going to have this position that allows it to call meetings, to set up a provisional agenda, to preside over meetings and so forth.

Now, it's also been pointed out that, well, hey, Security Council, as always, has three countries that hold vetoes and that typically align on policy, which is the United States, the UK and France, and they can certainly block any outrageous actions the Russian might be trying to gin up. And there's also other democracies that are non-permanent members of the fifteen member council. So it's going to be a question about how much the Security Council takes a further knock in its credibility really in the month of April, as you say, kicking off with the April Fool's Day ascent of Russia to the presidency of the council and whether or not it's able to conduct any business that comes up as part of its regular business.

This is a council by the way, that has on its regular schedule, the renewal or important debates about areas where the UN has a major presence. Taking place today, I believe, is a discussion about the Democratic Republic of Congo where there's a very large UN peacekeeping presence and the UN has been there when no one else has been there trying to bring peace and some semblance of order, especially in Eastern Congo where things continue to be very bad.

So again, it gets back to the question of credibility. It's worth noting the UN Human Rights Council, there was a vote that did suspend Russia from membership on that body. And that body has continued to bring up discussions about Russia's behavior and condemning Russia's behavior in Ukraine. The UN General Assembly has held votes also of various sorts condemning Russian behavior or Russian annexation attempts. Those types of votes are seen as a light lift for members. They don't have to get, even though a number of them have abstained in the past, to vote against Russia's actions in Ukraine is not seen as a major area of concern. And Ukraine does carry a decent amount of support in the broader body of UN members, but Russia still holds sway too.

So you're a longtime UN reporter, watcher. My students say to me, "Why should we take the Security Council seriously if all this self-dealing is going on?" If you're a 5 member, you can block any move in the same way the United States protected itself during Vietnam. And it's not just the Russians, US went to war in Iraq without Security Council. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should get into the whataboutism and what the Russians have done, utterly unacceptable. But how do we explain to people that the UN Security Council still has legitimacy when the Russians can sit at the head of the table at the same time that they're violating the most fundamental tenet of the United Nations, which is that countries don't change borders by force?

Yeah, that is essential question Carla, and it's a tricky one because of the nature of the council itself in which there have been calls for years, if not decades, for reforming the council, including the structure of it: who wields a veto and so forth. They are circular arguments that will never get resolved because no permanent member's ever going to give up the veto right. It's just has to do with the way this body was formed in the post-war era.

However, the UN has tried to reform around the edges and the UN is enormous and involved in all sorts of things, and by its very nature being a universal organization, it's going to come under scrutiny if not criticism for the way in which it allows its let's say, very diverse membership to behave. There have been meetings in UN disarmament committees in which North Korea is allowed to speak and vote or commissions on women's rights in which Iran was holding the gavel and so forth. And these kinds of things happen all the time. The Human Rights Council has a number of rogues sitting on it and its predecessor, the Human Rights Commission was dissolved because of its poor constitution and poor behavior.

So it's a history of the UN itself is the faultiness of it, but it is a real test and your students should be taking note on the way in which members and serious members of the UN Security Council comport themselves this month. The temporary members, even though they don't hold the veto, it's a big deal for them to get onto the UN for two years. It's seen as a really big thing for both countries that have been on it before as well as countries who've never been on it because you're sitting in these hallowed chambers and you are weighing in on important matters, whether it's funding or renewing a UN mission. We talked about that recently in Afghanistan for example, or just getting to table a debate on an important issue. These are things that still matter in international law.

I think at the end of the day, it's going to have to be the totality of the international response to the Ukraine abuses and that central fact of what you said, which is the violation of the UN charter and violating the sovereignty of a UN member state in this fashion and not being allowed to call it something else and get away with it. So it's going to be just yet another test for the UN. Brace yourself for April.

So the presidency does have status, stature, but they can't stop a debate. They can't stop the conversation, and they couldn't stop the Ukrainians from being at the table at that point. And as you said, it is a big stage. So that's my pushback to my students, a little Pollyannish. But I suppose we wouldn't be at the Council of Foreign Relations if we didn't believe in international institutions.

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That's right. And it's worth noting that Russia and China, which will come back into its own rotating presidency at the end of the year, they're not working to undermine the UN necessarily. They want to leverage the UN to do their own bidding really. They see the value of it. They've always staffed it particularly strongly. Now, China, which had been a mute member of the Security Council for years, is exercising its prerogatives and vetos and so forth in the Security Council much more frequently. So yeah, it's a place where you need to be present and you need to show up, and that means the U.S. needs to be out there and really taking charge and rebuffing maybe some of the more outrageous things we might see happen this coming month.

Yes. One of the great ironies of course, is the Russians and the Chinese have been trying to take the lead on some sort of international treaty on internet governance. I don't think that freedom of the internet is going to be high on their list. So that's something we should be watching here.

Yeah, exactly. And I should note another relevant debate that just played out in the past week or so, which was that Russia and China were in favor of authorizing an investigation into the blowing up of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline or the damaging of the pipeline, which some have said it has its traces with U.S. special forces and so forth. That has not been proven credibly, but there have been some murky reports about maybe the origin of the sabotage of the pipeline may not be Russia, but may actually be Ukraine or a non Russian source. So that was quashed in Security Council, but Russia did not get the support it needed. But it's still in all it shows that these types of issues are going to come up.

Carla, let's pivot and move to what's been called the happiest place on Earth. And of course, I'm talking about Walt Disney World. Tomorrow actually, Walt Disney World wraps up an eighteen-month-long celebration of turning fifty. Well, I wish we could all celebrate that age for that long and even longer.

Or go back to being fifty.

Or go back to being fifty. Is a long parade of festivities, of course. But the past few months have been also a a cloudy period for Disney World. While parent Disney deals with bell tightening and layoffs of thousands of people, the special Florida Tract of Disney World may be losing its special tax district status. Carla, is one of the world's most iconic brands going to change into something else after age fifty?

So, Bob, I never want to correct you, but the happiest place actually refers to Disneyland.

Does it really?

Yes. And Disney World is the most magical place on Earth.

Oh, okay. I've heard people conflate the two.

The Magic Kingdoms, which does refer to both of them, like to think of themselves as insulated from reality. And another interesting fact is that both Walt Disney World and Disneyland are both covered by an FAA No-fly zone, just like the White House.

Oh, interesting.

But they can only separate themselves so much. In 1992, 2,000 visiting French children had their school buses turned back because tractor driving farmers blocked the entrance to what was then the newly open Euro Disneyland, now called Paris Disneyland outside Paris to protest American agricultural trade policies. And one of the protest leaders interviewed, I was reading an LA Times piece about it, denounced the park as quote, "The symbol of an American culture that has invaded our country."

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So today, the protests are coming from a different place, not from French farmers, they're coming from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has declared war on woke Disney. And this all started back in March of last year when Governor DeSantis, a prospective rival, hasn't announced yet for the GOP presidential nomination, signed into a law, the parental rights and education bill, what critics call the "Don't Say Gay" bill, which bans public schools from teaching about gender and sexual orientation in K through third grade. Disney's the largest employer in central Florida, and under pressure from his employees, Disney's CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against law. Slowly, but he did. And warning of how it could hurt children and their families. And DeSantis instead of backing down in the face of criticism from a big corporation, the days of Republicans and protecting corporations seemed to be gone, DeSantis seemed to relish the criticism, and he immediately declared in a fundraising email that if Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy.

Under urging from DeSantis, the Republican control legislator did, as you noted, they quickly passed a bill canceling Disney's fifty-five-year old special tax status that allowed it to operate as its own municipality with control over services and the ability to do its own planning and permitting. We can talk about how incredibly undemocratic that is, but DeSantis and company, they were so eager to move against Disney that the legislative analysis of the bill was only one and a half pages long. So it took a while, but DeSantis and his staff finally figured out that Disney wasn't the only one who was going to pay a price for this legislation and abolishing this district meant that taxpayers in the two adjoining counties and this place is so enormous, but they would have to start paying for Disney World's fire department and for their police department and for repairing the Disney World Roads. And the district also had like a $1 billion debt load that the counties were going to have to inherit. So they quickly scrambled again.

And this month, the Florida legislature voted to restore Disney's special tax district and gave the governor the honor of picking all five members of its board. Predictably, he put in supporters: a big donor, a Christian nationalist pastor, and the architect of "The Don't Say Gay" law where this all started. But the mouse isn't trapped yet. What the legislator and the governor's office apparently didn't notice, and one is beginning to wonder about their competence, is that more than two weeks before DeSantis has signed the most recent bill into law, the previous board signed agreements with Disney stripping the board if most of its power and handing control over everything that matters back to Disney.

As one member of the new board said, "Basically the board loses the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and maintaining basic infrastructure." So what makes it even more fun and more in your face is the agreement is written under something called a Rule Against Perpetuities and says it will continue until, "Twenty-one years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III". Talk about kingdoms. We'll see what government DeSantis does now.

So Disney World has slightly different governance then?

No. Disney World itself, the company is still the company. It's the roads and I suppose their permitting process now, it's going to be harder for them to expand or build things from my understanding of it, reading this. And we don't know how it's going to play out. This is a big employer and it brings lots of money into the region and we'll see how much a fight plays out. So far, Disney World does not seem to be backing down or more to the point, the Disney company doesn't seem to be backing down. In September, it's going to be hosting what is being billed as one of the largest LGBTQ+ conferences in the world with the nonprofit Out And Equal, which is going to be discussing workplace equality and it's planning on hosting the summit again next year. So they don't seem to be cowed.

But this brings a broader question here, which is it used to be reasonably easy for corporations to keep their head down, but stockholders, employees, they want corporations to exhibit more social responsibility. It's just that in a really polarized society, people's definition of what social responsibility is can be pretty polarized as well. And politicians are very, very happy to jump on that bus. After Citigroup announced that it was going to pay for its employees to travel out of state for abortions, dozens of House Republicans demanded that the House drop Citigroup as its credit card provider. You turn on Fox, woke Disney is still a favorite, favorite target.

It extends to issues like how corporations respond to climate issues or whether they decide to allot a certain amount of their energy use to alternatives and so forth. It does seem like the challenge of Disney is going to be watched very closely and whether or not it restrains companies or maybe it expands the fight to a bigger issue that we haven't seen in this country, really, as you said.

Well, Bob, I think it's time to pivot and discuss our audience figure of the week, which listeners can vote on every Tuesday and Wednesday at cfr_org's Instagram story. And this week, Bob, our audience selected a particularly grim figure, "Thrity-nine Killed in Fire at Mexican Migration Center." And Bob, this just isn't just a human tragedy. This has a really ugly political and criminal side to it.

Yes, Carla, this one is particularly grim and we have gotten used to migrant news and casualties, deaths and so forth in a way that unfortunately we've gotten used to school shootings in this country, which is that they occur and they occur fairly frequently because the problem is not being addressed at its root or at its roots in this case, and it's only getting bigger.

This particular incident has shed a light on people who are staged on the Mexican side of the border who are trying to or have already been turned back from the United States. This fire broke out at a facility in Ciudad Juárez, which is just across the border from El Paso. There were said to be about sixty-eight men from mostly from Central and South American countries who were in the facility at the time. The deaths included disproportionate number of Guatemalans, for example.

By the way, the cause is still being investigated. It seemed like there might have been a disturbance or a protest involving the setting fire of a mattress. But basically authorities at the jail were seen to have walked away leaving locked men locked into a smoky burning facility, and it was captured on film. There's footage that is being now examined by investigators. There could be a expanding political probe into this.

And so there is the actual criminal act of what happened at the center. And there are other centers like this in Mexico, and whether or not this is going to change the way these facilities are run and whether or not it's going to have any impact on the flows of people from Central America, from places in South America like Venezuela or not, and whether or not the US is going to get newly engaged with Mexico to try to do something about improving the conditions for people who are trying to flood across the border.

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It is something we've talked about quite a bit already, Carla, and there's no big solution that's going to be accessible anytime soon. But there is a humanitarian side here that could it and should be addressed. I think the U.S. has opened up its medical facilities, for example, to people who were armed in the incident. But I think we're going to see, as you've seen the demonstrations that have happened spontaneously since this, the call for justice in Spanish is resonating a lot. We'll see, to the extent it spurs, U.S.-Mexican arrangement, that could at least improve the conditions for those who have decided to flee far from home and are staged in these pretty awful places.

So the US is offering, I don't mean to sound cynical here, but the US is offering medical help. It's a little bit like thoughts and prayers going out after a school shooting. How much responsibility does US immigration policy, Biden immigration policy bear? Especially this new Biden policy for Venezuelans who also had a significant number there. People are being held, as you said, a staging area. They're being held, they're supposed to sign on to apps to get appointments, the apps don't work, or they're overwhelmed. People are waiting months to get appointments, if any at all, for asylum hearings and Mexico agreed to do this, to have these people staged there. But I've been reading about the level of resentment on these border cities that are holding these people and not giving them any support as well. There's no explanation that's in any way tolerable for this criminal act, but there's something going on here that's really terrifying.

Yeah. And we should note our related podcast, The President's Inbox, Jim Lindsay, talked to Ted Alden, our colleague about U.S. immigration policy. And one of the things Ted pointed out was that the asylum policy, the app that you mentioned and special cutouts for certain countries, various steps, some of them innovative, has actually decreased the number of asylum seekers that were coming across the border. Decreasing though from a very high volume, we're talking of backlogs and caseloads in the many thousands. And so there is this problem of the U.S. trying to come to grips with a both humanitarian problem and a serious political challenge.

This is a major political challenge for the Biden administration. It is a huge issue for Republicans. We are now in the early phases of a ramp up into a Republican campaign where it's going to be, again, a big issue. You've had Republican governors of states who have trucked migrants up into democratic cities and areas to show the volume of the problem and to present Democrats with a dilemma. What do you do with these people? And so it is playing out in all sorts of ways, and there are people, desperate people who are unfortunately trapped in this situation.

So as I said, I think it's going to be important for the U.S. and Mexico to continue to talk about what they can do to try to ameliorate the border stresses and then all the other policy issues that are involved here in terms of trying to both process legitimate asylum cases, but also deal with the home country's situations that have spurred this. And Venezuela is certainly not moving rapidly from its failed state status in any way that's going to cause people to flock back. And in fact, people are eager to take advantage of the U.S. offer to provide some haven for them.

But you have people in Haiti whose country is even worse, much worse traits than Venezuela, and you have other problems that are percolating across the region. We just had a piece on our website about Peru, which actually hosts a large number of Venezuelans that its crisis is going to continue to percolate for many months and could flare up again at any time in terms of a leadership crisis there that spills over and causes instability and causes a further flight of refugees or asylum seekers. So there has to continue to be some effort to control the situation.

And for the U.S., we just have to, I think, level the fact that we're not going to be opening the doors anytime soon to mass numbers of asylum seekers, however legitimate, but trying to find some common cause to at least help them in a humanitarian way, have some safety for families, but also for young men who seem to be the real focus of victims in this case.


Not leaving you with anything encouraging there, I'm afraid, Carla.

No. And only with upcoming presidential campaign, less encouraging.

And that's our look at the discouraging World Next Week. Here's some other stories to keep an eye on. Taiwan's President, Tsai Ing-wen transits LA and a possible meeting with Kevin McCarthy, speaker of the House. The UN marks International Day for Mine Awareness. And, India in the coming week could surpass China as the world's most populous country.

Please subscribe to The World Next Week on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast, and leave us a review while you're at it. We really do appreciate the feedback. The publications mentioned in this episode, as well as the transcript of our conversation are listed on the podcast page for The World Next Week on cfr.org. Please note that opinions expressed on The World Next Week are solely those of the hosts or our guests, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

Today's program was produced by Ester Fang, with Director of Podcasting, Gabrielle Sierra. Special thanks to Sinet Adous and Michelle Kurilla for their research assistance. Our theme music is provided by Miguel Herrero and licensed under Creative Commons. Our theme music is provided by Miguel Herrero and licensed under Creative Commons. This is Carla Robbins saying so long.

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And this is Bob McMahon saying goodbye and be careful out there.


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