by Aris Roussinos
Friday, 19
November 2021
Dispatch
11:20

The Erdogan era approaches the endgame

Turks are turning against the president — but would he leave without a fight?
by Aris Roussinos
The walls are closing in on Turkey’s mercurial sultan. Credit: Getty

If you’re not paying attention to Turkey, you should be. As a result of its autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s eccentric personal interpretation of economics, particularly his war against a shadowy “interest rate lobby” supposedly run from London, the Turkish Lira’s slow, painful collapse is rapidly becoming a rout. Just five years ago, the Lira was trading at 3.3 to the dollar: now it’s hovering at around 11, and rapidly heading to 12 and beyond, as investors lose faith in the country’s ability to manage the economy. But still, the country’s central bank keeps slashing interest rates under Erdogan’s orders.

For middle-class Turks, the plunging Lira is a disaster. While the Turkish government claims an official inflation rate of 20%, independent analysts put the annual rise closer to 50%, putting imported goods out of reach for many, and straining their capacity to afford even essential household supplies like food and essential medicines. Erdogan’s AKP party cemented its rule on the back of growing prosperity, much of it fuelled by vast house building and infrastructure projects which enriched party cronies, but the cost of living crisis is accelerating discontent with his increasingly authoritarian rule.

For the country’s opposition leaders — at least the ones who haven’t yet been jailed — there’s a growing sense of optimism that Erdogan’s long rule as Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014 and then as President under his autocratic reform of the country’s political system six years ago is finally stuttering to a close. The country’s western-leaning secular opposition CHP party is making increasingly confident challenges to Erdogan’s series of missteps, demanding a snap election, but their optimism may be unfounded. 

Since the failed military coup against him in 2016, Erdogan’s rule has become increasingly dictatorial. With no clear successor in line to succeed him, and rumours of ailing health surrounding him, Erdogan shows no desire to hand over the reins of power, and anyone expecting a smooth transition is likely to be disappointed. The AKP party’s rule has enriched too many people, in dubious ways, to make its leadership confident that a democratic change of power is not an existential threat. 

As the Turkish analyst Selim Koru warned yesterday:

Most people in Turkey sort of assume that they will have the opportunity to vote Erdoğan out sometime in the near future. There will be a moment when the regime tries to renege on that implicit promise. That will be an interesting day.
- Selim Koru

For Europe, particularly Spain, which is heavily exposed to Turkish debt, Turkey is simply too big to fail, but there are few means of restraint left. Erdogan’s woes are also a threat to Turkey’s neighbours: whenever he’s under pressure, his policy has been to distract the population with aggressive acts against nearby states. 

But with Belarus making the migrant gamble toxic, and a new defence pact in place with France, Greece now seems safely out of the firing line; both Russia and the United States have apparently warned Turkey against any moves in Syria; so either the Kurdish PKK movement in northern Iraq or luckless Armenia now seem the most likely targets. With the walls now closing in on Turkey’s mercurial sultan, the next few months will determine the country and the wider region’s future — for good or ill.

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jill dowling
jill dowling
10 months ago

He will not leave without a fight. You forget that it wasn’t the middle classes that continued to vote for him. Poor people’s lives in Turkey changed dramatically for the better when Erdogan was initially voted in, people who have never been able to afford imported goods and don’t care about them.. They have applauded Erdogan’s “piousness”. Older poor people remember the past with all the coups and unrest, they don’t want it back. Many ordinary people were horrified at the last attempted coup. I personally think there will be more support than you think for him to hang on in there.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
10 months ago
Reply to  jill dowling

He doesn’t understand justice though and punishes the innocent. Many in opposition are still in prison, so there is no freedom of speech. Poor little Armenia are always getting it from Turkey. The massacres of the population in Armenia were horrific in 1914 but they still attack them. Is it because they are a Christian nation?. We do not need another Ottomon Empire with the slavery and cruelty again.

Last edited 10 months ago by Tony Conrad
Emre Emre
Emre Emre
10 months ago
Reply to  jill dowling

Erdogan was in the right place at the right time. There probably isn’t a single developing country that didn’t ride the wave of expanding globalisation to vastly increase the income levels of their populations during this period.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
10 months ago

Erdogan is a menace to his people and a menace in the middle east. It would be great to see him go. Turkey has a lot to sort out from when he came to power.

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
10 months ago

It’s worth remembering that it was the (proto-)woke who helped bring Erdogan to power by non-stop complaining about the imperfect nature of Turkish democracy and how Erdogan was the necessary solution to fix it. The likes of NYT, FT, the Economist would publish editorial after editorial to support him.
Looking at what’s happening in US today going from crisis to crisis, I today judge Turkish democracy a lot less harshly than I might’ve back in 2003. The one big highlighted sin of Turkish democracy was about not allowing political Islam in government. We’ll see how that one unfolds in the west with many countries banning certain Islamic garb and outlawing some Islamic teaching already, not to mention Trump banning legal entries from Muslim countries.
As for Erdogan brining prosperity to Turkey, while Erdogan clearly is a capable leader and strategic thinker, there was probably more in that success about simply being in the right time and place. Turkey rode the wave of globalisation like any other developing country achieving comparable levels of income and wealth gains (e.g. see Brazil or China between 2003-now).

Last edited 10 months ago by Emre Emre
David Simpson
David Simpson
10 months ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

Any relation to Yunus? Just curious

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
10 months ago
Reply to  David Simpson

Relation? Certainly.

David Simpson
David Simpson
10 months ago

While Ataturk’s “laicisation” of Turkey was important, Erdogan’s bringing back of Islam into the political fold was an important corrective – Egypt could learn from him. Equally, Pakistan could do well to call them out. He has done the necessary – if he was truly wise, he would now step down. He probably won’t – as Acton said . . .

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
10 months ago

How is Belarus making the migrant gamble toxic?