Mid-Week Digest 08/04/2021

Mexico’s anti-graft referendum lacks participation, week-long wildfires devastate Turkey and political violence ahead of Zambian elections

Mexico: Weak participation in anti-corruption referendum demonstrates government’s failure to act on graft

On August 1, Mexicans voted in an anti-corruption referendum to back or object to investigations into alleged crimes committed by five former Presidents – Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto. The turnout culminated at just 7 percent, in comparison with the 40 percent threshold necessary to make it legally binding. However, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE) reported that 97.7 percent of the participants supported the proposal. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) blamed the INE for the low turnout and suggested the required percentage should be lower; however, it remains unclear if another corruption referendum will be held in the coming months.

Unfazed by the results, AMLO claimed the referendum was a useful exercise ahead of a recall vote on his presidential mandate scheduled for March 2022, demonstrating the August 1 vote was mainly aimed at demobilizing AMLO’s supporters. Although surveys indicate that 9 out of 10 Mexicans support former presidents assuming responsibility for alleged corruption and other offenses committed during their terms, the referendum was perceived as a distraction from the devastating impact of the pandemic and deteriorating security environment and was unlikely to initiate any legal proceedings. The referendum cost Mexico $25 million, and was undertaken although Mexico has no laws or constitutional clauses that prohibit investigations into former leaders.

President AMLO campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and vowed to eradicate endemic graft in the government, but has not yet delivered significant improvements in Mexico’s fight against corruption since he took office in 2018. The trial of Emilio Lozoya, former head of Mexico’s petroleum company Pemex, revealed that AMLO’s predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto partially financed his 2012 campaign through the bribes Lozoya received from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht – the main target of Brazil’s Operation Lava Jato, the largest corruption investigation in the country’s history. AMLO’s refusal to investigate graft during Peña Nieto’s administration has raised suspicions about a political pact between the two politicians and demonstrated government’s failure to act on corruption. By organizing the referendum, AMLO was likely hoping to encourage popular participation and increase morale among his supporters amid surging cartel violence and mishandled pandemic response.


Turkey: Devastating wildfires prompt mass evacuations and underscore importance of climate change initiatives

Wildfires in Turkey have raged over the past six days, left eight people dead and prompted evacuations from coastal towns and tourist resorts, likely disrupting the rest of the travel season and affecting the tourism industry. Fires have also affected the agricultural sector, destroying vegetable and fruit greenhouses, bee hives, olive trees, killing livestock and devastating thousands of hectares of farm land. The European Union’s Earth observation programme warned of worsening air quality locally and downwind. Since July 28, over 250 fires broke out in 30 provinces, leading to the evacuation of 10,000 people from the southern coast; most of those fires have since been contained. On August 4, firefighters were confronting 16 fires in several provinces, including popular tourist destinations Antalya and Mugla. Fires have also spread to a coal-fired Kemerkoy power station in Milas on August 4, causing an explosion, according to various videos posted on social media networks. Milas’ mayor, Muhammet Tokat, assured the public that the authorities had the situation under control on the evening of August 3.

Spain, Croatia, Russia, Iran, Ukraine and Azerbaijan sent aircraft to assist Turkish firefighters; a total of 16 planes, 55 helicopters and over 5,000 personnel were battling the fires, as of August 4. The cause of fires remains unclear; authorities are investigating a possible involvement of Kurdish militants following the arrest of a teenager in connection to a fire that erupted in Antalya’s Manavgat region. However, scientists claim record temperatures, strong winds, low humidity and human accidents are behind the disaster. Since the beginning of 2021, wildfires in Turkey have destroyed 95,000 hectares (234,750 acres), compared to an average of 13,516 hectares (33,340 acres), fueling public anger over inadequate government response measures. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s has faced criticism for investing in environmentally-unfriendly construction projects instead of a functioning firefighting aircraft fleet, which could be damaging to Erdogan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) whose ratings have already been declining due to Turkey’s economic challenges.


Zambia: Political violence rising ahead of Presidential elections set for August 12

Violent protests are ongoing and are likely to persist throughout Zambia in the near term as the country heads towards its August 12 presidential election. The violence comes as political tensions are rising between incumbent President Edgar Lungu and Hakainde Hichilema—his main opponent—and their respective Patriotic Front (PF) & United Party for National Development (UPND) parties. The tension has culminated in violent protests between rival supporters across the country, most notably in the capital Lusaka and northern & southern provinces. Since the unrest’s onset in mid-June, UPND supporters have been accused of killing two PF supporters in Lusaka and attacking a journalist with state-owned Zambia News and Information Services in Ikelenge. The uptick in unrest has prompted Lungu to deploy the military to the capital to assist overwhelmed local police in curbing political violence in the lead-up to the election. Concurrently, the Electoral Commission (EC)—the national election overseer—has banned the UPND from canvassing in Lusaka’s Kanyama District & Ikelenge in response to these incidents. The canvas ban in Kanyama carries significant consequence, as it houses the most registered voters of any district in the nation and can potentially tip the election in Lungu’s favor.

Due to the violence, the EC has been afforded greater power pertaining to campaigning & canvassing – both parties have been barred from campaigning in Lusaka and three other districts, while special COVID-19 enforcements are in place to reduce rising case counts. Though the effects of both Lungu and the EC’s actions remain to be seen, they have the potential to serve as a flashpoint for corruption allegations should the UPND come up short in the election. Further political tension appears likely, and may intensify if the race is tight. Hichilema narrowly lost the last contest to Lungu in 2016, and political polling surveys have fluctuated immensely, predicting significant and slim victories either way.