FT: Economic slide sends support for Erdogan to all-time low

Hediye Bas accuses the dams, highways and the network of tunnels crossing the forested valley of Ikizdere in northeastern Turkey of choking the water supply and delaying his harvests. Now, work on a planned career is proving a breaking point and eroding his support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Bas and other villagers in Erdogan’s ancestral province of Rize are trying to stop the excavation of 20 million tonnes of stone for a new port 40 km away on the Black Sea coast.

Dynamite has previously blown up chunks of the mountain for an access road, briefly diverting the stream where Bas’s family fish for unnatural turquoise. For the quarry to function, up to 1m of trees will be felled and explosives will make nearby vegetable gardens toxic, while biodiversity in an adjacent protected area will be at risk, a local conservation group has warned.

Erdogan “probably thought that we would support any project he undertakes here because he wins almost all of our votes.” But I won’t vote for him anymore, ”Bas said. “No one in the village can find work in these projects, they just rob us of the valley we rely on for our income. ”

The rare demonstration in one of the president’s strongholds is emblematic of a wider discontent with his economic management which, according to polls, affects support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in across the country. Inflation has been stuck in double digits for most of the past four years and unemployment is around 14 percent.

The $ 200 million port is part of the $ 325 billion infrastructure investment expected in Turkey over the next decade. Erdogan has placed his economic hopes on the massive construction campaign, including a $ 15 billion shipping canal that will turn half of Istanbul into an island. At the groundbreaking ceremony last month, Erdogan said the projects laid the foundation for “building a great and mighty Turkey”.

Bas is less concerned with such grandiose ambitions and more worried about the cost of shopping and keeping her job at an auto parts factory after she was put on leave during the coronavirus pandemic. She said she was fired as a union representative after joining the protest. “It’s very expensive here. When you go to the grocery store, there is absolutely nothing you can buy for little money, ”she said.

The relentless drive to build has sparked dissent, with critics accusing a handful of companies of profiting from the projects, imposing financial and environmental costs on the rest of the country. In Rize, they indicate that two seaports are already operating below their capacity within 70 km of the new project.

“It is difficult for the government to justify the cost of megaprojects to the public when household finances are suffering and people are worried about their livelihoods and kitchen expenses,” said Can Selcuki, director of the Turkiye Raporu polling agency.

A series of opinion polls show support for the AKP at historically low levels. A June survey by Turkiye Raporu found it had fallen to 26%. Turkey’s next election is slated for 2023, but nearly 60% of those polled wanted snap polls. The agency’s May poll showed Erdogan – long Turkey’s most popular politician – lagging behind three opposition figures mentioned as presidential candidates. The “fundamental consensus” behind the crisis was widespread dissatisfaction with the economy, Selcuki said.

Erdogan dominated Turkish politics for two decades, overseeing a tripling of GDP that lifted millions out of poverty. But his dramatic consolidation of power in recent years has coincided with political volatility, including an attempted coup in 2016, aggressive foreign policy that put him at odds with Western trading partners, and unorthodox economic policies this deterred foreign investors and weighed on the country’s finances.

Turkey map

In Rize, he retains hero status. Welcome to Erdogan country, reads a billboard on the road to the provincial capital, also known as Rize and home to Recep Tayyip Erdogan University. Huge images of the president adorn buildings in the city of 150,000, where he won 79% of the vote in the 2018 presidential election.

But even here, dissenting voices emerged. Mehmet Ali Sancaktutan, who left the AKP two years ago, said his neighbors warned him to leave his home in nearby Guneysu, where Erdogan spent part of his childhood, after being arrested by the police for complaining about the president’s management of the economy on a YouTube. interview in June.

“I thought our president, a son of Rize, would save us, but he lost touch with our problems,” Sancaktutan said. “People are miserable, worried about putting food on the table, but we only hear about construction projects.”

Saltuk Deniz, provincial chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said his party tripled its share of the vote in the last local election.

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