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Turkey sends message to President Erdogan through local poll defeat — fix economic reforms

High inflation, rising unemployment, recession & a weakening Turkish lira have led to electoral defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party.

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New Delhi: The recent electoral defeat of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party or AKP in major cities such as Ankara, Antalya and Istanbul should serve as a major wake-up call for the ruling dispensation.

High inflation, rising unemployment, economic recession and a weakening Turkish lira (currency) are some of the major reasons that have led to the electoral setback for the AKP, which was led by President Erdogan from the front in the recently-held municipal elections, according to experts.

The electoral loss is also a reflection of the fact that there could be limitations to the narrative of politics centred on nationalism.

According to an official data released by Turkish Statistical Institute Wednesday, Turkey’s inflation rate has reached 20 per cent with consumer prices spiraling to 19.71 per cent in March compared to 19.67 per cent in February. The prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 29.77 per cent, the data stated.

“Economy is a serious problem there and President Erdogan has a difficult situation ahead as the US continues to desert Turkey that is getting increasingly close to Russia,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, adding that after the election results Erdogan and the ruling AKP have come under “severe pressure”.

Nandan Unnikrishnan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said, “Outcome of the recent elections in Turkey is a clear reflection of the people’s anger on the economic condition there. A lot of disillusionment has been happening for that reason.”

Unnikrishnan added one of the main reasons why people in Turkey gave a body blow to the ruling party was because of a weakening lira that crashed against all major global currencies.

Earlier this week as the election results were becoming clear, the lira fell sharply by more than 2 per cent even though the Turkish central bank exhausted its gold reserves and foreign exchanges to save the falling currency.

“This is definitely a wake-up call with regard to economic reforms,” said veteran diplomat Talmiz Ahmad, India’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Also read: Turkey, with its own dodgy record on human rights, becomes China’s unlikely critic

Has Erdogan’s nationalism suffered a blow?

The municipal election results have also raised questions on whether or not President Erdogan’s nationalism and his attempts at Islamisation of the country worked among the voters.

“President Erdogan continues to remain influential and there is no doubt about that. He has a clear plan where he wants to go and where he wants to take his country. That has not been affected at all. He has based his nationalism on Ottoman history, which is not going to change, and neither are we going to see a change in his posturing against the US. He continues to remain affiliated to Islam and so does his plan of Islamisation,” added Ahmad.

Erdogan was successful in establishing a presidential system of government through a referendum in 2017, which many see as his ambition to rule over Turkey forever. He also nurtures the ambition to be a leader of the Islamic world that pits him against Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Also read: Jamal Khashoggi’s murder an opportunity for Turkey to be Sunni powerhouse of Middle East

Electoral defeat not new to Erdogan

Although President Erdogan will not be facing elections until 2023, the outcome of the municipal elections has put a question mark on his ambition to become “leader of the Muslim world”.

“While this is definitely a difficult situation for President Erdogan, it is nothing new to him. He has gone through these ups and downs several times before. He has constitutional powers under him so it does not come as a setback for him,” added former foreign secretary Sibal.

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