The lira and AKP's manifesto steal the spotlight -Turkish media weekly

Despite efforts by pro-government press to deflect from the issue, a significant slump in the Turkish lira’s value and the potential economic crisis this entailed were the most urgent matter covered in the country’s press over the past week.

After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Bosnia on Sunday, May 20 to speak to crowds that outsized the venue in Sarajevo, pro-government newspapers led with triumphant headlines on Monday that described the event as a blow against Turkey’s “enemies” in Europe.

Officials from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have complained that bans against their party holding election rallies in Germany and other European countries were anti-democratic and showed bias against Turkey’s governing party.

Takvim newspaper characterised the Bosnia rally as an “Ottoman slap” to the AKP’s detractors around the world, referencing a martial technique that Ottoman soldiers were supposedly trained to use when caught unarmed.

Güneş newspaper, meanwhile, exhorted the party’s opponents with the headline “Tremble, oh enemies,” and described Erdoğan’s speech as a “clear message” of Turkish unity to Western powers that hoped to divide the country.

The secular daily Cumhuriyet’s front page on Monday carried details of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s “Surprise list” of candidates for the upcoming Jun. 24 parliamentary elections.

The newspaper noted that many prominent politicians from the party’s left-wing had been left out of the list, which only contained three names from the team of Muharrem İnce, the CHP’s candidate in the presidential election to be held on the same day.

A host of Turkish pro-government papers seized on the list in their headline stories on Tuesday, presenting it as proof of a split between İnce and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who chose the politicians in the list, and a crisis in the main opposition party.

Takvim newspaper treated the surprise omission of İnce’s allies within the party, including Istanbul deputies Barış Yarkadaş and Eren Erdem, as a “Game of Thrones,” illustrating the point with a large graphic depicting CHP politicians as characters in the famously bloody and intrigue-ridden television series.

Akşam’s front-page story on the list described it as a “bloodbath” of İnce’s supporters, and reported that Kılıçdaroğlu had avoided calls from İnce, the newspaper said had cancelled rallies upon hearing that his allies had been left out of the list.

If the CHP list was a “bloodbath,” similar terms could be used to describe the AKP’s list, which had left out nearly half of the ruling party’s serving deputies and prominent names including Mehmet Şimşek, a current Deputy Prime Minister and former Minister of Finance whose views on the economy recently clashed with Erdoğan’s.

In fact, Sabah’s front-page news on the AKP list did sniff blood, though only to extol the “Fresh blood” it brought to the party, with candidates including 126 women, one of whom named Elif Nur Bayram, is just 18 years old.

Cumhuriyet also smelled blood, albeit in the field of economy, with its front-page news on the rising dollar as a herald of the troubles to come later in the week. The story reported that the dollar had hit a new peak against the lira at 4.59, attributing the lira’s sliding value to investor unease with statements from Erdoğan, who discussed his plans to take a firmer grasp on Turkey’s monetary policies last week.

These themes continued on Wednesday, with Hürriyet’s front-page news applauding the “Atmosphere of youth” in the upcoming parliamentary elections, in which, including Bayram, a total of 113 candidates under the age of 25 will be competing.

With 57 candidates below 25, the AKP has the youngest list, while the CHP is putting forward 48 candidates under 25.

Cumhuriyet continued its focus on the economy with the headline story on Turkey’s debt, the terms for which it said are “Worse than Senegal’s”.

The Turkish newspaper quoted news from Bloomberg, which said that Turkey was paying more to service its debt than the less-developed African country, despite having a much larger economy and a higher credit rating.

Following a trend among financial analysts, Bloomberg attributed this to Erdoğan’s unorthodox approach to the economy, which one credit analyst quoted by the financial news company called “the final nail in the coffin” for Turkey’s economy.

The lira drastically fell to a low of 4.929 to the dollar, prompting Cumhuriyet’s headline story on Thursday calling the situation an “Economic nightmare,” leading to an emergency intervention by the central bank that raised interest by 300 basis points on Wednesday evening.

Cumhuriyet’s story warned that Turkey’s financial woes could, if unchecked, lead to intervention by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The story quoted Turkish economist Korkut Boratav, who said that Turkey was in contravention of international financial regulations and could be hit with fines or IMF administration as a result.

Pro-government newspapers on the same day rushed to attribute the lira’s slide to an international conspiracy against Turkey, which Star newspaper said was the latest in a long line of operations aimed at overthrowing the ruling party.

The “Dollar operation” election followed the 2013 Gezi Park anti-government protests, graft probes in December 2013 that targeted leading AKP politicians and the July 2016 coup attempt, all of which according to Star were organised by unnamed forces wishing to bring Turkey to its knees.

Yeni Şafak, another pro-government rag, was forthcoming enough to name the forces hellbent on destroying Turkey; the masons, it said, had attempted an “economic coup” on Turkey in the run-up to the June 24 elections.

The newspaper’s front page said that masons were in control of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation, or FETÖ, followers of the Islamist cleric blamed for the July 2016 coup attempt, and said the two groups had collaborated to attack Turkey’s currency and create a crisis before the elections.

Mention of the potential economic catastrophe and the alleged international conspiracy against Turkey was markedly absent on Friday from the front pages of pro-government press, the majority of which instead nearly ran out of superlatives reporting on the ruling party’s electoral manifesto, announced in Ankara on Thursday.

Yeni Şafak described the manifesto promises simply as “Good news,” under a larger headline piece that called the AKP’s document a “Super League manifesto,” referring to Erdoğan’s promise to “win promotion to a higher league of democracy.”

The promises on the manifesto are too numerous to list here, but include the vow to “even further” strengthen judicial independence, solve the problems of inflation and the high current account deficit, and become a “giant” in defence exports.

Cumhuriyet’s headline news seized on one of the AKP’s many pledges – to open a research base in Antarctica – to illustrate that the manifesto was “out of touch with reality” for a party that has been in power for 16 years.

The news story said that many of the electoral promises directly contradict policies that party has pursued during its reign.

While the manifesto promised to grant legal status to minority places of worship, including Alevis’ Cemevis, the party had taken no steps in 16 years to address this issue despite rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, it said.

Furthermore, the front-page story added, the party’s vows to “continue to improve” the economy and strengthen democracy and freedoms were at odds with the country’s current economic plight and the state of emergency, which has been ongoing since July 2016.

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