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Turkish anger grows as Erdogan’s economic war hits cost of living




As the Turks worried this week about the pound’s drop and the soaring cost of living, they received surprising advice from a deputy from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party: just eat less.

“Let’s say that in normal times, we eat one or two kilos of meat per month. Let’s eat half a kilo, ”Zulfu Demirbag said in a headline-grabbing statement Tuesday as the currency fell 15% against the dollar. “If we buy two kilos of tomatoes, let’s just buy two tomatoes,” he continued, echoing Erdogan’s account in calling on the public to join the resistance against the shadow forces that are working to undermine Turkey.

Such conspiracy rhetoric can still work on a core of staunch supporters of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) who see the president as a powerful leader struggling to assert Turkey’s rightful place in the world order. But for most of the public it wears out.

Column chart of annual% change against the US dollar showing the Turkish lira in historical decline

“There is a core of people who would vote for the party and Erdogan no matter what,” said Sinem Adar, associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in Berlin. “But the [AKP] the constituency is increasingly dissatisfied with the politicians and the government. There has been a steady decline since September in more or less all reliable polls. “

Turks were caught between horror and bewilderment as they saw the pound fall after the country’s central bank, under Erdogan’s orders, cut its benchmark interest rate for the third month in a row despite inflation that officially stood at 20% last month. The lira has lost more than 20% against the dollar since early November. Its downward spiral accelerated after the president said on Monday that the country was waging a “war for economic independence” similar to the country’s liberation struggle in the 1920s and suggested that further rate cuts would come.

Tech firm Apple halted online sales in Turkey on Tuesday as the currency crossed thresholds of 11, 12 and then 13 per dollar, preventing producers from pricing their products. “When I got into the elevator the dollar was 11.55. When I got out it was 12:15 pm, ”said a young lawyer from Istanbul in a tweet that quickly went viral.

As they watched the turmoil from afar, many international investors predicted that Erdogan would eventually agree to a sharp hike in interest rates to stop the currency from falling, as he did in the last great crisis. 2018 summer monetary policy.

But Turkish observers doubted the president was unhappy with the currency’s fall. “I don’t think this is the result of ignorance or a ‘crazy’ gesture just for religious reasons,” said Ibrahim Turhan, a former AKP member of parliament who is now part of a separatist party. “This is, in my opinion, a calculated policy change.”

Erdogan, who ruled Turkey for nearly two decades, suggested it himself, saying this week that “a competitive exchange rate paves the way for strong investment, production and employment.” Opposition parties have responded by accusing the president of “betrayal” for his apparent indifference to growing hardships in a country whose dependence on imports means that every drop in the lira raises the cost of basic goods.

Analysts have wondered to what extent the president, who built his early political successes on the backs of growing national prosperity, was prepared to let the currency slide – and what the consequences would be for his political future if, as some economists le warn, the depreciation paves the way for hyperinflation of 30% or more.

Erdogan and his ally Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement (MHP) party, have rejected growing calls from the opposition to advance the elections scheduled for 2023.

“I still wonder if the alliance will be able to survive until 2023 given that it is weakening very quickly,” Adar said. “What if he suddenly collapses?” If the MHP or the security apparatus withdraws its support for the ruling alliance?

Others say the pressure is more likely to come from defections from the ruling party. “You don’t want to be an AKP MP when the ship sinks, especially if you’re not in the inner circle,” said Can Selcuki, director of the Turkiye Raporu polling agency.

While life this week has largely gone off as normal in a country that has seen countless terrorist attacks, an attempted coup, and multiple financial crises over the past six years, there were small signs of growing concern. Queues have formed at some gas stations in anticipation of rising prices. Small protests, some organized by the Turkish Communist Party, led to arrests in Istanbul and Ankara.

Selim Koru, analyst at Ankara-based think tank Tepav, said Erdogan would use force if more people took to the streets. “His supporters are now in the minority and are losing ground,” he said. “He will be more and more afraid of demonstrations.

Some opposition voters believe the Turkish president, who has adopted increasingly authoritarian tactics in recent years, may seek to postpone the elections or even cancel them altogether if it appears that efforts to bolster his support by political parties. legitimate means do not bear fruit.

Members of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) expressed fears at a meeting of the group’s executive committee on Thursday that the Turkish president could declare a state of emergency.

A senior opposition official played down these concerns. But he added: “When you think of the government that runs this country, nothing is impossible.”




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