It began with a few outraged customers posting photographs of their electricity bills to social media, showing how charges had almost doubled at the end of January. But such complaints have quickly snowballed into a full-blown political crisis for the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.
Turks have been hit with runaway inflation — now officially more than 48 percent — for several months, and criticism is growing even from Mr. Erdogan’s own allies as he struggles to lift the country out of an economic crisis. The Turkish lira has sunk to record lows. Food and fuel prices have already more than doubled. Now it is electricity.
Even as Mr. Erdogan raised the minimum wage last month to help low-income workers, his government warned that there would be an increase in the utilities charges it sets. But few expected such a shock.
“We are devastated,” said Mahmut Goksu, 26, who runs a barbershop in Konya Province in central Turkey. “We are in really bad shape. Not only us, but everyone is complaining.”
Mr. Goksu’s January electricity bill soared to $104 from $44, and is now higher than the monthly rent he pays on his shop. “My first thought was to quit and get a job with a salary, but this is my business,” he said.
The price hikes in electricity have varied across the country, but every business and household has seen an increase of some kind.
Ilyas Senturk, 29, a motorbike courier in Istanbul, shares an apartment with a roommate and said his power bill had more than doubled, but friends had received bills two times or even four times the size of his.
“We have all gone into debt in the last three months,” he said of his friends and colleagues. “Sometimes we cannot find money.”
Mr. Senturk said the increase in his electricity bill may seem small, but it amounted to the cost of a weekly commute — or his weekly food bill.
“We are trying to dim the lights, or use smaller light bulbs,” he said. “With all the other increases, it is a huge hike.”
Turkey’s economy was already in recession before the pandemic hit, and because it relies heavily on tourism and the hospitality industry, the months of lockdown have badly hurt many businesses. The government offered some compensation, but mostly in the form of loans to tide over businesses and workers. Many like Mr. Senturk are still paying those off.
Restaurants and cafes trying to recover after two years of losses from the pandemic were also reeling this month after electricity and gas bills doubled.
“During the pandemic, we were closed for 19 months,” said Ilker Tiniz, 37, who runs a family-owned restaurant in the southern city of Adana. “We did delivery. My credit cards exploded and we were taken to the debt enforcement office.”
He took a government-sponsored bank loan but complained about the interest payments. “They said it’s support, but it’s not,” Mr. Tiniz said. “They take it back with interest.”
In January, his rent rose to 15,000 lira (about $1,150 at the time), then the electricity bill came in even higher at 17,000 lira, and Mr. Tiniz went on Twitter to voice his alarm. His was among the first of what has grown into a storm of complaints from citizens.
“I wrote that tweet so that the government hears my voice,” he said in an interview at his restaurant.
Despite the difficulties during the pandemic, there had always been hope that things would get better, Mr. Tiniz said, but the galloping inflation was shaking everything in the whole food chain, from the farmers to market traders to the customers in his restaurant.
“In December, peppers were eight lira per kilo. Today, they were 22 lira. Cucumber was six lira, today it was 20 lira,” he said. “I never bought eggplant for more than six lira. Today, it’s 30 lira. It rose by 400-500 percent.”
“It’s really a disaster,” he said. ‘‘By March, it will be worse.”
Political opponents of Mr. Erdogan have been warning for months that the country is heading for economic collapse. But in a system almost completely under Mr. Erdogan’s sole control, he makes decisions on virtually everything and keeps his own counsel.
Despite warnings from economists, Mr. Erdogan has steadfastly refused to raise interest rates, the usual tool to combat inflation, arguing that it would only hurt the poor.
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