Islam, COVID-19, and the end of Erdoğan’s economic miracle
Turkey’s sustained growth rate of the past decade has considerably slowed down. Recession appears to be around the corner. The main Turkish trade union confederation notes that the poverty line is three and half times higher than the minimum wage. The country’s foreign adventurism masks its domestic crises.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – After a long period of economic growth that began in the early 2000s, Turkey is now going through a major slowdown that could undermine the standing of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Turkey’s strongman, dubbed the sultan, rode to power on long wave of good economic results as prime minister, after 2003, then as president after 2014.
Now however, high inflation, widespread unemployment, and disastrous financial policies in the last few years have overshadowed the early successes, so much so that Erdoğan has been forced to fall back on religion, mixing nationalism and Islam, to mask the country’s deep crisis.
The severity of the situation can be gleaned from Starvation and Poverty Line Study, a research paper released by the Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions (TÜRK-İŞ).
The study shows that a healthy, balanced and adequate diet (above the starvation line) for a four-member family requires at least 2,516 Turkish liras (around US$ 320) a month.
If clothing, housing (rent, taxes, electricity, drinking water, etc.), transport, education, and health are added, the same family needs a monthly income of 8,197 Turkish liras (around US$ 1,030 dollars).
Since Turkey’s minimum wage is 2,324 liras, the poverty line is at least 3.5 times higher than what the state guarantees.
Inflation compounds the problem. The minimum amount of money to be spent for "food" by a four-member family living in Ankara increased by 1.39 per cent in a month.
Over 11 months, prices have increased by 16.37 per cent. Food inflation in the last two months is up 19.68 per cent. The average annual increase has been estimated as 14.57 percent.
Trade unionists and experts agree on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country's economy, hitting most harshly the middle-lower and lower classes of society who currently face growing difficulties.
As a result of low wages, inflation, and unemployment, the situation is getting worse by the day, which is undermining Erdoğan’s standing in public opinion, and the winning image he has projected in the past 10 years.
For far too long, the president has feigned assurance if not indifference to the growing crisis. All the while, ordinary blue- and white-collar workers, and retirees have been asked to make further sacrifices.
Speaking to Lebanese French language daily L’Orient-Le Jour, Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute, stresses that Erdoğan's long hold onto power has been attributed to his economic successes.
“He has lifted many people out of poverty,” Cagaptay explained. “This is one of the reasons so many people flocked to him. From 2002 to 2016, GDP doubled and the country had an average growth of 5.5 per cent on an annual base, attracting many investors.”
When the crisis came, the president’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, could not to stop it. In fact, for many experts and analysts the latter, together with the head of the Central Bank, are responsible for the troubles of the last few years, so much so that Erdoğan had to replace them, in a hurry, as the country headed officially into a recession.
"This is the reason why his party lost local elections in Istanbul, Ankara and other big cities,” Cagaptay said.
Still, foreign policy adventurism, instrumental use of Islam, and changes at the top of the economy seem to have had a positive effect, at least for now, for Erdoğan's popularity, which remains strong.
Nevertheless, many believe that his political career is at a crossroad. “So far, he has relied on ad hoc alliances with other parties to control the country, and occasionally oppressed the rest of the population,” Cagaptay said. “Now he must rely on a minority to oppress the majority. This is a turning point”.