Construction failures highlight threat to Erdoğan - BBC

Halted construction projects across Istanbul are symptomatic of deep economic troubles that pose the gravest threat to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 16 years in power as Turkey heads to the local elections on Sunday, the BBC reported on Thursday.

The government promised Istanbul’s Fikirtepe district a gleaming new development with apartments, malls and spas, with a promotional video highlighting it as a symbol of Turkey's newfound wealth, according to the BBC.

“The houses of at least 15,000 people were demolished to make way for it. Many paid deposits to buy into the project. But as financial problems hit, investors pulled out, and most of the planned buildings never materialised,” said the BBC. “All that's left is a gaping hole of bankrupt companies and broken promises.”

Polls before the March 31 local elections suggest the president’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) could lose control of the capital, Ankara, and perhaps even Istanbul.

Zeynep Düzgünoldu, aged 60, welled up with tears as she pointed to where her old home used to stand beside a fig tree. "Now my rucksack is my home. I'm ashamed to ask my children for money,” she said. “The government is ruthless. They promise to pay our rents, and then forget about us after elections. We're cheated."

Firdevs Uluocak's house on the edge of the construction site was destabilised by the digging, and she blames Turkey’s president, said the BBC. "I feel hatred towards him,” she said. "I always voted for him - but he's ruined his people."

Erdoğan has long championed construction as the engine of Turkey's growth, and his mega-projects - bridges, airports, tunnels and more - have remade the country’s infrastructure and housing stock.

But construction moguls close to the president have won state tenders through political support, and the industry is mired in claims of corruption and cronyism.

In addition, with Turkey in recession, inflation at 20 percent and the lira having plunged by around a third, costs have spiked and construction companies are failing. Fikirtepe, a central neighborhood on the city’s Asian side targeted for urban transformation, has suffered considerably from the construction slowdown.

“Cranes suspended in mid-air and half-built skyscrapers that now dot Istanbul are a sign of that crisis,” said the BBC, adding that the situation could still get worse.

"Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign-denominated debt and when that's harder to service, that's when you see the problems we're in,” said Can Selçuki, an economist at the EDAM think tank. "We could be on the brink of a major crash. We need high sums of foreign cash, and the most likely address for that is the International Monetary Fund.”

Erdoğan has argued against an IMF loan, which would likely come with stringent conditions.

"But the cost of not finding the capital," Selçuki told the BBC, "might be increased bankruptcies and a downward spiral."

The economic downturn has prompted the president to change the subject on the campaign trail. He has shown video of the New Zealand mosque attack at rallies, and provided people with cheaper produce at government-run food stalls. But it may not work this time.

“I voted for the AKP before, but not again because the economic situation is bad,” Istanbul vegetable shopper Eşref Korkmaz told the BBC. “I'll hold my nose and back the opposition this time."