Turkey after the elections: Many problems, whoever wins

Victory for Erdogan and his party would be perceived as carte blanche.
Sunday 24/06/2018
Inescapable hardships. Shop owners wait for customers at their stall in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, on May 25. (AP)
Inescapable hardships. Shop owners wait for customers at their stall in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, on May 25. (AP)

Turkey is once again at the crossroads, as it has been many times in the past two decades. This time is different. It is marked by early — or rather, hasty — elections.

Never mind the intensity of the opposition effort to dislodge the Justice and Development Party (AKP) from power. Ignore the self-confidence projected during the election campaign by Turkey’s strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The winner of the elections will face enormous problems.

A series of acrimonious political battles through the years means that Turkey has regressed politically. Erdogan’s highly personal quest for absolute power has taken its toll in terms of rule of law and, more recently, of economic slowdown.

Should the opposition bloc do well, pushing the AKP and its far-right nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party, to a minority position in parliament, its dexterity will be sorely tested. It will have to restore democratic order. First, it would have to lift the state of emergency, which has been in force in Turkey for nearly two years.

Under the state of emergency, the AKP’s effect on state institutions and civil society has been venomous. More than 100,000 people have been purged by way of decrees. Some 50,000 people, including thousands of judges, lawyers and more than 100 army generals, NGO activists and Kurdish MPs and local politicians, remain in jail. Many are in pre-trial detention.

A fierce crackdown on the media led to the imprisonment of 170 journalists and the closing or takeover of more than 200 independent outlets.

Mainly Kurdish towns and cities have suffered under the AKP. Gulenist businesses have had assets worth more than $15 billion confiscated, which is reminiscent of the looting of Armenian assets during the 1915 genocide.

Ending emergency rule may be the easy part, however. What follows might be worse. If the oppressors are brought to justice, it could be the start of a new era of acrimony and vengefulness.

Victory for Erdogan and his party, on the other hand, would be perceived as carte blanche. Given Turkey’s fault lines, police-state methods would be the only way to govern decisively. The only question is: How long could that be maintained?

The tasks that lie ahead go much beyond re-establishing rule of law. Turkey’s economy is in free fall and it will be the biggest challenge no matter who wins. Bear in mind that early elections were called because the country’s economic woes were mounting.

As economic analyst Guldem Atabay Sanli pointed out on Ahval News Online: “The first item on the agenda following the elections will be how to reverse an impending economic contraction in the third quarter of 2018. The 500 basis-points in rate hikes that investors forced the central bank to take this year, despite objections from Erdogan, are set to reverse economic growth.”

Atabay Sanli added that inflation was heading towards 15%, spurred by rising energy costs and a weakening lira. A decisive win for Erdogan, she said, would probably result in new ballast for unorthodox economic policies.

Turkey also needs a new model of growth, one that is based on productivity, Atabay Sanli said, rather than with “cheap money raised from abroad.”

Turkey’s toughest problem, of course, is its external debt.

Atabay Sanli noted that the effect of Turkish corporates’ attempts to restructure their foreign loans of more than $225 billion is unclear with respect to the banking sector. Unless the new government speedily finds a solution, the lira will continue to lose value.

The conclusions are inescapable. These elections may not return Turkey to the path of democracy. They may, at best, jam the handbrakes on its rapid slide into a dictatorship. Whatever happens, many problems lie ahead.