Turkey’s confusingly busy political agenda

Turkey’s confusingly busy political agenda

Like elsewhere in the world, Turkey’s top problem is the worsening economy, along with the high cost of living and rising unemployment, particularly amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Credible public opinion surveys openly broach this fact, as more than 60 percent of respondents describe the economy as being bad or very bad.

Along with many other steps to put the economy on track, the government is pursuing an intense and comprehensive campaign to boost tourism, dubbed a “factory without smoke,” since it generates considerable revenue for the economy.

This is where the confusion regarding the political agenda in Turkey begins.

On July 2, a large delegation led by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu that featured Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and officials from the Health Ministry paid a visit to Germany to urge Berlin and Brussels to reconsider their travel warnings on Turkey. Turkey dearly needs European and German tourists for the rest of the high tourism season.

On the same day, ironically, Turkey’s administrative court was discussing whether one of the country’s most important cultural and touristic sites, the Hagia Sophia, should be turned back into a mosque following a weekslong campaign by government officials to that end.

Just to note: around 3 million, mostly foreign, people visited the Hagia Sophia in 2019, and it goes without saying that any attempt to alter its current status would have a negative impact on Turkey’s image and, therefore, its tourism.

Another confusing aspect in regards to efforts to boost foreign tourism is the fact that the pandemic is still spreading dangerously in most countries, including Russia and the United Kingdom – to say nothing of Turkey to some extent.

Take Russia, for example: 7,000 new cases continue to emerge every day in the country, and opening the borders to Russian tourists would turn Antalya and its environs into a new cluster for the virus.

The economy is very important and tourists are needed, but as many members of the Science Board rightly underline, a complete reopening could extend the impact of the damages beyond 2020.

Speaking of the economy, bad news came from Germany as the country’s giant automaker Volkswagen is reportedly dropping its plans to open a new factory in Turkey in response to a drop in demand for new cars amid the pandemic.

Was it a coincidence that Turkey’s Competition Authority launched an investigation into Volkswagen and other German carmakers on the same day that news broke that the group had changed plans on its 1.1 billion-euro investment?

Whether a coincidence or not, this kind of move could resonate negatively among potential foreign investors.
Another confusing development which popped up recently – and which is likely to deepen in the coming days – is the government’s declared intention to introduce a set of regulations on social media, including Twitter, YouTube and the like.

Turkey is one of the countries with the highest numbers of social media users, particularly the younger generations whose sole communication means are the aforementioned avenues. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, too, opts to hold frequent online meetings with young people as his party is drawing up plans on how to reach out to Generation Z and first-time voters.

But amid concern about the growing negative impact of social media due to insufficient filtration systems and the absence of adequate regulations, many countries are pondering ways to increase their control over them, and Turkey is no different.

However, the way this issue is being discussed in this country makes the case a little different from the practices of other countries. Consequently, many have interpreted it as yet another move to silence dissidents in Turkey.

A similar discussion likely to dominate the agenda in Turkey regards the Istanbul Convention, a U.N. document that aims to create a global platform to fight violence against women. The document was opened to signature in Istanbul, and Turkey became one of the first countries to sign and ratify it, granting a prestigious place to the country in this endeavor.

But now the same government that approved it is discussing whether to withdraw from it on the grounds that it harms the family structure in Turkey. A deputy leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Prof. Numan Kurtulmuş, told the media that even signing the document was a mistake.

Ironically, his remarks were published in newspapers next to a report about the killing of another woman at the hands of his husband. Kurtulmuş and other AKP officials reject the idea that the convention has any role in the fight against violence, only suggesting that the document paves the way for the recognition of different sexual orientations.

These are just some of the confusing, or even puzzling, items on Turkey’s political agenda, and it’s a tough task understanding and analyzing their repercussions.