Washington Post: Erdogan’s arbitrary rule is devaluing his nation’s currency — both moral and economic

Superficially, there is no particular connection between the two biggest ongoing news stories in Turkey: the government’s persecution of a political dissident, philanthropist Osman Kavala, and the dizzying collapse of the Turkish currency, the lira.

In reality, though, the two derive from the same source, which is President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arbitrary and capricious rule. Unless countervailing pressure — from both inside his country and outside — can persuade Mr. Erdogan to change course, his country could be headed for irreversible political and economic damage.

Educated in Turkey, Britain and the United States, Mr. Kavala, 64, has a long record of activity in his country’s liberal nongovernmental organizations. The Turkish government accuses him of having funded nationwide protests in 2013 and of supporting a bloody, but failed, 2016 coup attempt. He denies the charges, of which he has not been convicted, but he has been in prison pending trial since 2017, nevertheless.
The European Court of Human Rights instructed Turkey to release him in December 2019, but it has refused. When 10 ambassadors from the United States and other Western countries pressed the issue in Ankara in October 2021, Mr. Erdogan threatened to expel them for what he called “blasphemy” against Turkey, but later relented. Still, a Turkish court ordered Mr. Kavala’s continued detention in late November, prompting the Council of Europe to warn that Turkey may soon be formally declared in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan, having previously put Turkey’s central bank under his direct control, has been ordering a series of interest-rate cuts to fight inflation — contrary to all sound economic practice. The Turkish president, a political Islamist, has alluded to Muslim anti-usury doctrine to justify this strange policy, which, he also claims, will boost Turkish exports, thus stimulating growth. As more and more Turks dumped their lira in favor of dollars or euros, Mr. Erdogan responded on Dec. 20 with an even more desperate measure: reimbursing anyone who agrees to hold lira for at least 90 days for any currency depreciation that might occur during that time. There was a brief respite to the lira’s decline before it resumed in the last week of December. Turkey’s central bank is reportedly spending billions of dollars of its reserves to prop up the lira, but inflation has just hit an annual rate of 36 percent.

In short, Mr. Erdogan’s recent conduct confirms the worst fears of those who warned about one-man rule in Turkey. His harebrained economic ideas are sapping the nation’s wealth. In a healthy democracy, a rampant leader responsible for such a disaster would face checks and balances — the most essential being the free expression of truthful information and opposition policies. As Mr. Kavala can attest, however, Turkey is far from a healthy democracy.

Washington Post / Editorial Board