Over the past 18 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has consolidated more power than any leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. He has transformed Turkey’s politics, faced down a military coup, and rewritten the country’s constitution to give his presidency additional power. But his combative style and autocratic instincts have earned him critics at home and abroad. His biggest political problem at the moment is economic: unemployment stands near 14%, inflation remains in double digits, and the pandemic grinds on.
The president and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are paying a political price for all this. President Erdogan has trailed rival Ekrem Imamoglu in head-to-head matchups in a number of recent polls. A recent poll from Turkiye Raporu found that the AKP’s vote share in a prospective election has fallen below 30 percent for the first time ever. Erdogan’s willingness to allow a new Central Bank governor to sharply raise interest rates late last year has stabilized conditions by cooling inflation and attracting more foreign investment. As COVID-19 weighs more heavily on household wealth, domestic political pressure is growing, and demand for change is rising. In coming months, Erdogan may well revert to the kind of quick fix economic policies that made Turkey so fragile in the first place.
In the meantime, short on bread, Erdogan has offered circuses he hopes will rally his base and distract from hard times. When students protested Erdogan’s choice of a political loyalist as rector at a major university, he attacked them as terrorists, and many were arrested. He has picked a political fight by calling for new constitutional changes that would give the president new powers he says he needs, despite the near certainty that it can’t win the super-majority vote needed for ratification in parliament. Erdogan has also worked hard to stoke national pride. Last month, he pledged to mark the 100-year anniversary of modern Turkey’s founding with a space mission that culminates in “first contact with the moon” followed later by a manned mission. His poor polling suggests the public’s priorities lie closer to home.
Read more: Time