Financial Times: Fruit is a luxury in Erdoğan’s Turkey, inflation threatens his re-election hopes

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives at National Defence University for a graduation ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey July 1, 2022. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing major economic issues, including an official rate of almost 80% which many neutral economists believe is actually much higher, and this could affect his chances of re-election in 2023.

A former president famously said in the increasingly Islamist country, as people content with astronomical price rises: “There is no government that cannot be brought down by an empty cooking pot.”

This is of course propelling Erdoğan to tackle inflation, but he continues to pursue policies that experts have described as a giant economic experiment as the Turkish president rejects the widely accepted economic logic that higher borrowing costs help curb inflation.

In the process of experimentation, he has sacked three central bank governors in the past three years and ordered a succession of aggressive interest rate cuts, thus provoking a strong inflation that the IMF predicts will only be outstripped by Venezuela, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Many families are struggling to cope amid the worst economic crisis in decades.

“I’m not going anywhere near the fruit,” said a 52-year-old civil servant to Financial Times, who was shopping at an outdoor food market in Ankara’s working class Keçiören district.

“It used to be a basic need, full of vitamins for the children. But now it’s a luxury,” said the shopper, who asked not to be named due to her government job.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 2023, but could take place earlier if Erdoğan feels that his chances will be improved by calling a snap vote.

“Everyone is wondering what will happen: will he stay or will he go?” said Elif, a 17-year-old waitress from Keçiören, who will be a first-time voter. “I think this time could be very different.”

The combined vote share of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP) and its allies was just 32 per cent in June, with undecided voters and protest votes not distributed, according to a survey by Turkish pollster Metropoll.

The combined tally of six opposition parties that have joined forces against the president was around 37 per cent — rising to 48 per cent if the votes of a Kurdish party that also opposes Erdoğan were included, reported the London-based outlet.

The sharp drop in prosperity means that Can Selçuki, director of the Türkiye Raporu polling agency, said that his “baseline scenario” is now that Erdoğan will lose both the parliamentary and presidential elections. “He seems to be out of options.”

Some analysts warn that predicting the end of the AKP era, especially when the alliance of opposition parties that has united against the president has yet to decide on the joint candidate that will take him on, is extremely premature.

“It is hard for Erdoğan to win the next election. But voters have to know that alternative candidates or options will be able to solve the crisis,” said Burak Bilgehan Özpek, a political scientist at Ankara’s TOBB University.

The June Metropoll poll suggested that 16 per cent of the electorate were either undecided, did not answer or planned to deploy a protest vote.

“Voters have to see a strong road map and strong leadership in the alternative,” Özpek said, adding that some former AKP voters still “do not trust in the opposition and their ability to rule the country”.

Longstanding AKP voters are the key, people like Ayşe Arslan, a housewife who laughed bitterly when she saw the price of a kilo of lemons at the Keçiören market. “We thought it would be cheaper here,” she said.

She now rarely buys meat, choosing cheaper pulses and grains instead, although she says she is not hungry.

The 43-year-old is unsure about the Kemalist opposition and their ability to fix the economic situation, but she is none-the-less, considering abstaining in protest at the state of her country. “I’m really sad at the state of the country,” she said.

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