Istanbul rerun deepens economic pain across Turkey

On the Seyhan River a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean, Adana is Turkey’s fifth most populous city. With a developed industrial sector and a prime position in a fertile agricultural region, the local economy tends to reflect the country’s wider concerns.

After the March 31 local elections, Turkey’s seventh national poll since 2014, the people of Adana hoped the extended period before the country’s next vote, schedule for November 2023, would give the country and its battered economy time to heal.

Yet the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) objections to the Istanbul mayoral vote, which the election council initially declared it had lost before ordering a rerun, has meant another delay for much needed economic reforms.

With unemployment on the rise and the province’s sizable agricultural sector taking the brunt of economic policies that have made imported foods cheaper than domestic produce, locals are getting desperate.

“The government is going after political positions, but the people are just after bread,” said one local. “Instead of fighting and going for election reruns, they should fix the economy. If the Istanbul rerun is impacting tradesmen in Adana, there’s a problem.”

For many, the main problem is inflation, which slowed to 18.7 percent in May after reaching a peak of 25.2 percent last year. Rising prices have hit Adana locals like Semra Güler hard.

“Before, when I went to the market I could afford to buy a trolley-load, now I can only afford one or two items,” she said. “Inflation is rising, the dollar is rising, but your wages don’t increase at the same rate. The standard of living is going down.”

Shopkeeper Ahmet Durmaz has seen business dwindle and now owes some 4,000 liras ($686) in taxes. “I’ve been forced to shut my shop, I couldn’t make a living from it,” he said. “They’re rerunning the Istanbul election, and the lira’s fallen to six or seven against the dollar. It could fall to 10 against the dollar, and what would they do? Raise taxes even more.”

Clothing trader Sultan Seral said consumers had begun to see everything but food as a luxury. Rising petrol prices and the dollar fluctuations have had a particular impact on textiles prices, meaning slow business for traders.

“We can’t make sales, and with expenses going up we’re on the verge of quitting,” said Seral.

Widespread dismay at the direction of the economy is likely a major reason for the ruling alliance’s loss to the opposition in Adana on March 31 – one of many in Turkey’s most important cities, including the capital, Ankara. It is therefore little surprise that Adana residents are unenthusiastic about the Istanbul rerun.

“An election rerun means yet more money,” Seral said. “People are cutting down what they eat in order to get by. Tradespeople are manning tills themselves because they can’t pay workers. Why do we need to keep going through all these problems? The Istanbul rerun isn’t just affecting the people of Istanbul, it’s had an impact on Adana too.”

Hüseyin Keleş, a market trader, shared this view.

“I can’t make enough to pay electricity, water, rent and food expenses by the end of the month, so I have to take extra work,” he said. “We thought the economy would get a little better (after March 31), then they decided to hold the rerun, the dollar rose again and inflation went up too ... Politicians are in love with their seats, and it’s the people who suffer.”