ISTANBUL — With Turkey facing a major economic crisis and presidential elections scheduled for June 2023, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a host of challenges. Yet the Turkish leader is a master of crisis management, and even the Russian invasion of Ukraine could provide unique opportunities.
Turkey pundits are used to hearing conflicting statements from Erdogan’s supporters. For example, with Turkey facing its highest inflation in 20 years, Minister of Finance and Treasury Nureddin Nebati made two different promises about when inflation would peak and when it would go down within the span of weeks. According to his initial prediction, inflation would go down by the summer. Yet later on he moved the time frame to the end of 2022.
Turkish officials’ financial predictions are particularly important as rising costs of living and eroding purchasing power are pushing more people in Turkey below the poverty threshold. Yet a denial of facts does not help the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The economic distress directly reflects on Erdogan’s approval ratings. There is little confidence that economic recovery is possible before next year’s elections.
Most AKP officials acknowledge the rising cost of living and how this will be the most important issue for the next election campaign. In mid-February, Numan Kurtulmus, deputy chairman of the AKP, told his party’s members that “the AKP is the No. 1 party in polls by a wide margin, but still victory is in the lion’s den.” He advised them to canvas door-to-door to maintain their hold on power.
Indeed, for the first time in years, Turkey’s prominent pollsters show a steady decline in AKP support. In the June 2018 elections, the AKP’s vote share was 42.56 percent; now it ranges in polls between 25-35 percent. But while the AKP is on a losing streak, it has a solidified base of die-hard supporters.