Once again, it’s the economy
We have less than two months left until the general and presidential elections in Turkey and the Justice and Development (AK) Party finally realize big projects like the airport or Canal Istanbul will not put any food on the table. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım unveiled a huge incentive package that included twice-yearly “religious holiday” benefit payments to the retired, amnesty to university drop-outs, even a miniscule penalty payment for illegal construction. You name it, they gave it.
Yes, it is the economy again. And this is what this elections are really about. Neither Erdoğan’s persona nor the opposition’s determination can pull it off alone. The number on the street is 4 Turkish liras are equivalent to 1 United States dollar. It is the harshest reality in years and it is not going anywhere, so let’s do the math. Binali Yıldırım’s “election package” is to cost around 24 billion liras and that is relatively a small budget. It is exactly the same amount ($5,800,000) of foreign trade deficit for the month of March ONLY!
The Istanbul Stock Exchange, BIST 100, should have normally reacted to such generous packages as a positive sign, such that it meant a bit more money in the market. But instead, the ISE lost 3 percent of its value in the last five minutes of its trading day. U.S. dollars that traded around 4.04 rose to 4.07. The capital markets lost their magic touch for the AK Party. And it is too early for them to price any election scenario.
But there are doubts about the gift payments to the retired and the amnesty for college dropouts. First of all, young people have no appetite to go back to university because it is desperately expensive to study. It makes little or no sense to go back to school for the sake of delaying military service. The AK Party government is simply trying to find a formula to hide the ballooning youth unemployment by camouflaging it as “higher education.”
Second, the retired masses of Turkey have been so poor and so overlooked for the past decade that paying them 2,000 liras every year as a gift will not do any good. Our elderly have been victims of burglary, homicide, telephone fraud, even domestic violence by their kids because of the salary they receive. They have forgotten the taste of red meat and they only shop from neighborhood markets. Their hearts are so broken that I doubt this will make them switch their vote.
Let’s put things into perspective. The AK Party and Erdoğan did not expect such a vibrant and tough opposition when they announced snap elections on June 24. They had imagined that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) would be lost in its own discussions, the Good (İYİ) Party would be left in the media blackout, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) would be sidelined by the voters and the Felicity Party (SP) would be too afraid to raise their voice.
Forcing Abdullah Gül to withdraw from the race may have even helped Gül’s own credibility. But beyond all, it put Meral Akşener and her İYİ Party into the center of a fight that is 100 percent “Erdoğan-style” that means, “No step back, no compromise, fight until the end.” The CHP, the İYİ Party’s Akşener and the Felicity Party’s Temel Karamollaoğlu are constantly on the ground talking about the economy every day. So, the opposition has managed to pull the AK Party into their territory now.
Let’s see how this episode unfolds.