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Economic and political realities
Question of the Day
With five days remaining before Turkey’s national elections, the ruling Islamist party is clearly pushing one idea: It’s the economy, stupid.
For the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, the economy has seen growth for the past 21 quarters. Inflation is significantly declining, foreign currency is stable and there is record-breaking foreign investment — all achieved after the country’s economic crisis of 2001. Yet if the very existence of the secular democracy is at stake, should the most important issue for Turks be the economy? Before moving on to election predictions, it’s helpful to look at the claimed economic “success story” of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The story of AKP’s economy is part success, part luck and part myth. It’s a myth because the fact that there is so much money in the global finance market has worked to the country’s advantage. Remember, the AKP asked for $92 billion in return for Turkey’s help in the Iraq war soon after it came into power — ostensibly to offset any adverse economic effects it would suffer from lending a hand. The request was caricatured in the American media, knocking Turkish national pride and provoking anger toward the United States The Turkish economy, however, has not in any way been negatively affected by the war in Iraq.
In fact, to an extent, it has benefited. The economic minds of the AKP did not have the vision to study the global trends. Understandably, they don’t admit the fact that once the global trend turns the other way, Turkey’s economy will be vulnerable once again.
The AKP was lucky as well, according to Tamer Berksoy, the dean of the faculty of Business Administration at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. He explains that when the AKP came to power, it followed the economic program that pulled Turkey out of its 2001 economic crisis. The program was designed by Kemal Dervis, who entered into Turkish politics as a state minister from the Republican People's Party (CHP) — today’s main opposition to AKP — after resigning from the World Bank. “AKP followed exactly the program that Dervis put together,” Mr. Berksoy says. “That is to say, they continued on disinflation program, fiscal discipline and Turkey’s relationship with the IMF.” Mr. Berksoy also notes that “although we [as economists] won’t technically claim that today’s economy is AKP’s success, I would say that theirs is a political success.” And that is nothing but the difference of a single party government and the coalitions.
Turkey has faced five economic crises since the 1990s. One way or another, all the major political parties have partnered in coalition governments, losing credibility with the people. While economic crisis has become par for the course, Turks grew fed up with corrupt politicians — and decided to vote them out of parliament. In the 2002 elections, only two parties — the AKP and the CHP — were able to pass the 10 percent threshold, earning it representation in parliament. The CHP, incidentally, has not been the party in power in nearly three decades.
In this election, if the economy is truly expected to be the voters’ primary motivation, none of the opposition parties has submitted a serious economic program, notes Ugur Gurses of Radikal — one of Turkey’s best economic analysts. Furthermore, argues Mr. Berksoy, some of the opposition economic proposals could again trigger inflation — which would lead to slowed growth and fewer new jobs. But it does not mean that AKP offers a better alternative for the people. If AKP’s economic success is equated to a mathematical balance sheet of the foreign direct cash flow, exceptional privatization receipts and the status of the financial markets, it could be perilously misleading. After all against a steady growth, the unemployment rate still remains around 10 percent. Evidently, AKP will follow the course if it continues to rule the country, but it lacks new strategies aiming to correct the real economy — not only the financial markets.
Finally, even with Election Day so close, people don’t seem to be excited. They are not convinced that the Islamist AKP threatens their secular democracy, and they can’t seem to find an opposition party that has gone through some true self-examination and come back with new proposals to serve to the people.
Nonetheless, even lacking in excitement or even a sense of urgency, the Turkish people seem interested in creating change. They are unhappy with the country’s polarization and they seem to blame the AKP. Therefore, it is safe to guess that the outcome of next week’s elections is decided: This time, Turks will give three parties — the AKP, CHP and MHP, or Nationalist Movement Party — the votes to achieve the 10 percent threshold, and will also elect a number of independent deputies. That way they will guarantee that the AKP will lose seats in parliament — and a smaller majority means that the party will have to cooperate with others. That will not only help Turkey’s credibility in the international markets to remain, but will also signal Turks’ devotion to democracy, and they will continue to seek better leaders. Finally, Turkey is walking delicately through the crisis mementos without falling into it.
Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.
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