Turkish Erdogan loses support where he can least afford it


The anger sweeping the highways connecting the Turkish leader’s humble hometown to its lavish accommodations in Ankara’s presidential palace sends a red warning code to Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Tea growers, fishermen, small retailers, cafe staff and gas station attendants – some of the generally low-paid Turks and laborers who have formed the backbone of Erdogan’s support over his two decades at the top of Turkish politics – abandon the ruling party as the cost of living rises.

An 800-kilometer journey this month along Turkey’s Black Sea coast and its conservative hinterland has shown how many are losing faith. Opposition parties control major cities, which means Erdogan and his AKP party must hold traditional strongholds to stay in power in the 2023 election.

They have 18 months to convince disillusioned and hesitant voters like Sahap Kardesler.

Coming out of a butcher’s shop in Iyidere, the 66-year-old retiree had used the credit to buy enough meat for several months. “I may not be able to afford it later,” he explained. “We don’t even know what the price will be in an hour.”

With his popularity declining amid the hardships brought on by the pandemic, Erdogan forced Turkey to embark on a high-risk economic experiment. He relied on the central bank to lower the cost of borrowing in search of the sunny highlands for more investment and better jobs, and lambasted the power wielded by global finance.

This is his version of the export-led path to wealth followed in the past by some Asian countries. Yet for now, the president’s divergence from the orthodox economy leaves people poorer – wiping out more than 50% of the value of the lira this year and causing prices to skyrocket.

Serving tea in his small café in Iyidere, Selahattin Mete relies on his business acumen to accuse the president of being naïve.

“You can’t say ‘I don’t accept interest rates’ when your economy is deeply connected to the rest of the world,” he said. Still loyal to Erdogan, Mete, 51, has had enough of the president’s Islamic Development and Justice Party, or AKP.

“They look down on us,” he says. “At first he was one of us, ordinary people. Now they live in luxury.

It’s a complaint heard regularly in what are supposed to be AKP strongholds.

Iyidere is in Rize province, where Erdogan’s father lived until he went to work in Istanbul and where the president spent part of his childhood.

This personal connection means that many here refrain from directly criticizing Erdogan, who first as prime minister and, since 2018, as president with broad executive powers, supported the construction of highways, hospitals. and ports – including one under construction near Iyidere – to rise to high-rise provinces. More than 800 pairs of presidential scissors used to cut the opening ceremony ribbons are on display in Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the net minimum wage would be increased by 50% from next year on Thursday in Ankara. | AFP-JIJI

But members of the presidential party are accused of cronyism and extravagant lifestyles that have left them out of touch.

In a recent example, Treasury and Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati was criticized for comments about the economy that seemed insensitive.

“You have a salary. What would you lose at most? You will be crushed by inflation, ”said Nebati, whose family owns a chain of textile stores. “But I’m going to lose all of my assets if that doesn’t work. We have a thousand employees.

Turkey’s central bank intervened in foreign exchange markets again on Friday to contain the lira’s fall after it surpassed 17 to the dollar.

Erdogan blamed soaring inflation, which hit 21.3% a year in November, to spikes in world prices as well as local hoarders, and sought to assure voters his government would not give up on them. “As we implement our new economic agenda, we are supporting all segments with supporting programs that will be needed,” he told AKP lawmakers. On Thursday, he announced a 50% increase in the minimum wage for next year.

Not everyone is listening. A November survey by Metropoll showed 26% support for the AKP outside of undecided voters, its lowest level in the party’s 20-year history. This figure drops to 21% in the lowest income segment of society.

Shoulder to shoulder

The president’s job approval hovers around 39%, near the lowest ever in 2015, according to Metropoll. The opposition Nation Alliance was supported by 39.5% of those polled, she said, a fraction of 40% behind the Republican Alliance led by Erdogan. The main pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, is estimated to hold more than 11% of the vote and could potentially support the opposition presidential candidate.

“The biggest concern of voters is clearly inflation,” Nomura Holdings Inc. said. “What is worrying from the palace’s point of view is that it has seen a sharp drop in support” among voters. low income.

The AKP won over 58% of the vote in the Rize Provincial Council in 2019 and 67% in the last legislative elections in 2018. But this solidarity is being tested.

“There is no life for us amid the back-to-back price hikes,” 64-year-old retiree Yildirim Mete said as he enjoyed a walk in the sun. Income from growing tea, the lifeblood of the local economy, has fallen, he said.

In May, Erdogan revived the idea of ​​a multibillion-dollar canal, an alternative to Istanbul’s Bosporus Strait, that would connect the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Marmara and create thousands of jobs. So far, this is only a proposal as Turkey searches for ways to finance construction.

Permanent work is high on Fatma Nur’s list of goals, but the 21-year-old social work student was serving tables at a nearly empty fish restaurant in the coastal town of Arsin.

“I have voted for the AK party before, but I certainly will not support it in the next election,” Nur said, admitting she was unsure who to support.

With her hair covered in a headscarf, she accused the government of failing to protect Turkish women after activists reported an increase in deadly violence. In March, Turkey withdrew from an international treaty aimed at protecting women, arguing that it went against the country’s religious values.

Nur only had two tables to maintain and further west in Carsibasi, fisherman Osman Akkan, 43, had seen his income plummet as the Turks cut back.

A worker at a fish market in Ankara on Friday |  REUTERS
A worker at a fish market in Ankara on Friday | REUTERS

“I used to sell 80 to 100 kilograms of fish a day, now I can barely sell half of it,” he said. “There is less demand, even for cheap horse mackerel. “

Not everyone was complaining about their luck. A few meters from Akkan’s fish stall, 44-year-old driver Cengiz Kayas was praying on a green carpet next to his newly purchased truck.

“Yes, there is inflation, but there is demand for my services, so I am able to reflect any price increase in my fees,” Kayas said. “If we join forces, we will overcome these economic challenges. I don’t see anyone other than Erdogan ”as a leader.

Still, the mood along the road to Ankara was gloomy. In Ordu, baker Oner Tekin had laid off two employees and was considering closing his store as rapidly rising flour prices were eating into his income. And in Samsun, the largest city on Turkey’s Black Sea coast, Osman Haliloglu had spent a lot to stock enough tires for next year, hoping to be able to sell them competitively.

Gas station worker Okan Orhan said the frustration over the cost of fuel was increasingly evident.

“Many drivers who come here curse the frequent increases in gasoline and diesel prices,” said Orhan, 27, with mutterings such as “Allah break my hands if I vote for the party again. AKP ”.

Discount retailers have more customers than ever before, but even their prices are overtaking women like Ayse Denizci, who was looking for bargains in Delice, near Ankara. She left empty-handed.

Denizci and his family generally vote for the AKP. “But we probably won’t support him anymore,” she said. “The knife cut right down to the bone. We need change.

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