As Turkey Elections Loom, Erdogan Fights for Political Future

Just a few months ago important election could reshape Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy, the government is spending billions of dollars from state funds to support President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party at the ballot box while launching a series of legal threats aimed at weakening those seeking to overthrow him.

Some economists call the overspending unsustainable and potentially harmful, as Mr Erdogan tries to soften the economic situation. the blow of hyperinflation about Turkish families in preparation for voting.

In addition, recent polls show that at least two potential opposition candidates can defeat Mr. Erdogan, and one of them faces four legal challenges that could knock him out of the contest. and gave Erdogan’s party control of Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city and home to one of the country’s five eligible voters.

Erdogan and his aides emphasize that they are setting policy purely to serve the country of 84 million people, whose people have rewarded him and his party with numerous election victories over two decades. past century. His critics counter that he used his years as Turkey’s top politician to concentrate power in your own hands and are now using it to shape the outcome of an election before voters even go to the polls.

Ahmet Kasim Han, a professor of international relations at Beykoz University, said: “Erdogan is trying to fight this battle on the ground he chooses, according to the framework he defines, with weapons that he chooses and preferably with an opponent that he prefers.” in Istanbul.

Both Erdogan’s government and the political opposition see the presidential and parliamentary elections as an important opportunity to shape the future of the country. a NATO member with one of the 20 largest economies in the world and strong diplomatic and business relationships across Africa, Asia and Europe.

Adding the symbol to the vote is the time. Mr. Erdogan said it would be held on May 14, months before the 100th anniversary of the founding of modern Turkey following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

In the meantime, he and his government have launched massive spending on initiatives aimed at shielding voters from economic troubles, at least until the election.

Since the end of December, Mr. Erdogan has increased the national minimum wage by 55%; 30% increase in salary for civil servants; expanding subsidized lending programs for small businesses and merchants; and moved to abolish the minimum retirement age requirement, allowing more than 1.5 million Turks to stop working immediately and receive their pension.

Mr. Erdogan has said that if he wins, it will vindicate his efforts in building the Turkish economy, increasing influence abroad and protecting the country from threats. domestic and international. Addressing his Justice and Development Party (AKP) members in Parliament last week, he dismissed the political opposition as incompetent and called himself the best person to lead the country in 100 years. second year, which he called “the century of Turkey. “

“Look, I’m here as a politician who solves the problems in his region and in the world, who takes charge, who gives direction,” he said.

Mr. Erdogan was Turkey’s supreme politician for two decades, serving as prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and president since. His first decade in power saw a dramatic expansion of the economy that lifted millions of Turks out of poverty and expanded Turkish industry.

But in recent years, the economy has weakened and Turkey’s rivals and Western officials have accused Mr. Erdogan of pushing the country toward autocracy, largely because the sweeping power he gave himself since a narrow majority of voters passed a referendum in 2017 expanding the role of the president.

Erdogan’s detractors say he has tamed the media, limited critical coverage and expanded his influence over the courts, leading to politically motivated trial. He has also been responsible for foreign and fiscal policy, standing outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and central bank.

An alliance of six parties was Working together to overthrow Erdogan and they say that if they win, they will restore the independence of government agencies and reduce the power of the president by reverting to the parliamentary system.

“The election is not just about changing the government,” Canan Kaftancioglu, chairman of the largest opposition party in Istanbul, the Republican People’s Party, said in a recent interview. “It’s between pro-democracy and anti-democracy people.”

Improving the opposition’s chances are the country’s economic difficulties, leading some voters to question Mr. Largely due to his unorthodox fiscal policies, the national currency has lost almost two-thirds of its value against the dollar over the past two years and year-on-year. Inflation reached about 85% in November before dropping to 64% in December.

Turkey’s highest inflation rate in 2022 is almost 10 times higher than that of the United States and second highest in the Group of 20 largest economies, after Argentina. Soaring prices have eaten into Turkish families’ budgets and eroded the middle class, damaging Mr.

But the opposition also faces major challenges.

Mr. Erdogan is a skillful political activist and orator who can rely on a vast party machine tied to the state and its resources. The opposition has yet to name its candidate, making it possible for Mr Erdogan to campaign without a candidate and fueling speculation that the opposition is being hampered by internal divisions. set may cause it to perform poorly or split.

Recent lavish government spending complements other initiatives launched last year: the cash assistance program for low-income families; the government write off some debts; and state-funded accounts to protect local currency deposits from devaluation.

Many economists say this rush of state spending may cheer voters up until the election, but will most likely spur inflation even higher and could tip the country into recession later. vote.

“The plan is that until the election, they can spend a lot of money,” said Ugur Gurses, a former central bank official and financial expert. “I think they think it’s worth it if they’re going to win. But if they lose, it will fall into the hands of newcomers.”

The opposition’s stance has been further complicated by new legal threats to Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul and one of the potential opponents that recent polls suggest could defeat him. Erdogan.

Last month, a court Imamoglu was banned from politics for two years and seven months on offenses against state officials. He has called election officials who overturned his initial victory in the race for mayor of Istanbul in 2019 “idiots”.

The race was reorganized a few months later, and Mr. Imamoglu again defeated Mr. Erdogan’s candidate, this time by a much larger margin.

Mr. Imamoglu remains in office while appealing the verdict. But in the weeks since the court’s ruling last month, he has faced three new legal threats that could temporarily remove him from politics and remove him from office, transferring control of the big city. Turkey for Mr. Erdogan.

The Interior Ministry sued Mr. Imamoglu for alleged corruption during his previous time as mayor of Istanbul district in 2015; the interior minister accused the mayor’s administration of recruiting more than 1,600 people with links to terrorism; and Mr. Imamoglu are being investigated separately for allegedly insulting another district mayor, who is part of Mr. Erdogan’s party.

Hasan Sinar, assistant professor of criminal law at Altinbas University in Istanbul, dismissed the legal threats as “purely political”.

“It’s all about Imamoglu because he’s the rising star of the opposition and they want to stop him,” said Sinar, who filed a legal brief in favor of Mr Imamoglu to the court in the lawsuit. first insult, said.

While it is unclear whether Erdogan personally intervened in the case, Sinar said he doubted a judge would rule against such a senior figure without knowing that Mr. agree or not.

“This is a political act that seems legitimate,” he said, “and no one can do this if it is against the will of the president.”

Safak Timur contributing reporting from Istanbul.


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