Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is experiencing his worst moments as head of state today. Social and political tensions in the country are becoming increasingly evident. The economy is collapsing, the value of the national currency is relentlessly falling, and the number of poor people is skyrocketing.
According to recently published data, the nation’s citizens are trapped in a rapidly worsening debt crisis, with millions facing lawsuits over outstanding debt. Since January 2021, the total debt of Turkish citizens amounted to 979.1 billion Turkish Liras. That’s about $72 billion, with about two billion dollars of that debt in arrears, and the number of citizens unable to pay their consumer credit debts has reached 788,800.
Inflation in Turkey was 21.3% in November compared with 19.9% in October, reaching a three-year high, Bloomberg reported. Since the beginning of the year, the Turkish national currency has fallen from 7.43 to 13.4 to the US dollar, depreciating by half. According to Turkish experts, one of the reasons for its rapid collapse is Erdogan, interfering in the banking policy, who is confident that lowering the key rate will fight inflation. As a result, the situation is only getting worse. The president of the country lays blame on the leadership of the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, and on foreign agents. Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames everyone but himself, constantly talking about a foreign plot to eradicate the Turkish people, allegedly organized by opposition parties, the CIA, world Zionists, Western liberals, billionaire George Soros, and other forces hostile to Turks. Reuters quoted S&P as saying that Turkey risks damaging confidence in the lira further by using “borrowed” reserves to defend its exchange rate and recent developments put its current sovereign debt credit rating at risk.
Against this backdrop, Erdoğan replaced three heads of Turkey’s central bank until current regulator chief Şahap Kavcıoğlu agreed to lower the key rate to 15% in November. President Erdogan also dismissed Lutfi Elvan, Minister of Finance, and appointed Nureddin Nebati, a staunch supporter of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), who, unlike his predecessor, is a supporter of the low interest rate policy pursued by President Erdogan. However, Nebati’s political appointment caused a wide resonance in Turkey, and that’s because he does not have an economic background. As a graduate of Istanbul University, he graduated from the Faculty of Political Science, received a MA degree in international relations, and a Ph.D. in political science and Public Administration at Kocaeli University.
Because of the Turkish lira’s record fall, street riots are erupting throughout the country. Turkish citizens held mass demonstrations in the main streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and other cities against the economic crisis and the high cost of living. They called on the ruling party to step down, given the country’s impoverishment. Among the topics gaining traction on Twitter in Turkey were the phrases, “We are drowning,” “Government to resign,” and “We can’t make ends meet.” But the police are taking tough action. On November 23, the residents of Istanbul and Ankara staged protests, after which the Turkish General Directorate of Security announced the institution of criminal proceedings against the owners of 271 accounts in the social networks through which the calls for protests were allegedly spread.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is pursuing an active foreign expansion to divert attention from the severe national crisis. The Turkish army is involved in combat operations in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. Erdogan is strenuously promoting his project of the “Turkic world.” In particular, this promotion was confirmed by the map of the new Turkic world demonstrated by him the other day. The map includes a significant part of Russia’s territory from Dagestan and the Orenburg region to Altai and Yakutia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, the Balkans, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and some territories of Mongolia, Iran, and Europe.
Turkey’s next presidential election is scheduled for June 2023, but recently Turks have been increasingly talking about a possible cancellation by Erdogan. Recent polls show his popularity, and that of the ruling AKP party is plummeting. According to a mid-November 2021 ORC Research poll, in the case of the next parliamentary elections, the ruling alliance of Erdogan and Devlet Bahçeli would get 40% of the vote, while the opposition coalition would be supported by 41.2% of the population. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is not part of any alliance, could get 8.4% of the vote. Under these conditions, Turks are increasingly saying that the health of their President has seriously deteriorated. At any moment, Recep Tayyip Erdogan may push the country into a new foreign adventure to strengthen his position among voters, playing the role of the savior of the nation from external threats.
Against this backdrop, Turkey’s six opposition parties decided to join forces to restore the country’s parliamentary system. Critics of Turkey’s President want to limit his tenure and limit his powers. This coalition consists mainly of representatives of the parliamentary opposition. The last round of talks between the deputies took place on November 30. Critics of Recep Tayyip Erdogan insist on limiting his powers and transferring them to the legislature. At the same time, they want to force the head of state to withdraw from politics after he leaves office. The opposition also calls for the independence of the judiciary, journalists and academia, and the need to lower the electoral threshold for parliamentary representation from 10 percent to 3 percent. In addition, Erdogan’s opponents propose to create a Council of Ministers from among the Deputies. Some of these points in the opposition bloc’s program were previously ruled out by Erdogan after he amended the Constitution and transitioned to a super-presidential system.
According to the opposition, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is destroying Turkey from within, and after his departure, the government will have to rebuild the wreckage of the remaining system. Crime has reached unprecedented proportions in the absence and blatant violation of human rights. Tens of thousands of people who disagree with Erdogan’s policies were thrown into prison by the current authorities, lawlessness and severe problems in the justice system, problems with refugees. All this once again questions the effectiveness of the current government and political system, said Turkish political analyst Kerim Has, an expert on international relations.
Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who heads the Future Party, believes that Erdogan’s current economic policies are “not ignorance, but treason” against his people. The politician also called for immediate elections in the country.
Erdogan rejected opposition calls for snap elections.
According to a Metropoll Research poll, 64% of Turkish citizens are convinced that the current Justice and Development Party government will not be able to curb the economic problems in which the country finds itself. Only 28.4% of respondents believe that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is capable of solving this problem. However, 55% of respondents believe that the current opposition cannot lead Turkey out of the economic crisis, even if it comes to power.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.