Artificial agendas cannot hide Turkey’s economic crisis
Even though there are plenty of manufactured news items attracting lots of interest in Turkey, there are two stories topping the agenda these days: the first of these is the Kanal Istanbul project, and the second is the issue of the deployment of soldiers to war-torn Libya. However, when you look closely, you can see that these two topics are meant to shield the public from the country’s real problem.
At the moment, the biggest issue officials don’t want you to discuss is that the country is in the middle of an economic crisis. From time to time, some minister will come out saying the economy is great at the moment, but the average person on the street knows from his or her own experience that this is just not true. People, however, are afraid that saying it out loud will get them into trouble or land them in prison, so no one can really talk about the problem.
Still, polls show that the base supporters of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will continue to vote for them despite the crisis. And in any case, it seems safer to talk about things like the Kanal Istanbul waterway project and Libya instead of the ongoing economic crisis.
Recently, statements from the government about Kanal Istanbul emphasise how the project will be a boon to the economy. However, a lot of projects the ruling party claims will bring economic growth only serve to enrich the few companies that win the construction tenders, and most citizens are not actually satisfied with any of these projects.
One such project that hasn’t been adequately discussed is Istanbul’s new airport, which was built despite all of the warnings from experts and environmentalists. Problems with the airport continue to make headlines. I’m truly curious how this airport has helped the economy because it’s difficult to reach, there are problems with wind and fog, and the expenses associated with it are extremely high. And let’s not forget that when foreign leaders and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself fly into Istanbul, they continue to use the old Atatürk Airport.
It’s not just the new airport that’s harming the economy. For example, the problems that forewarned before the third Bosporus bridge was built are all unfolding now. We’re seeing in the news that the connecting roads to this bridge are taking too much money from unnoticed automatic tollbooths, and drivers are not being refunded after paying tolls twice. At the same time, payments for the bridge continue to come out of the treasury because the guaranteed number of vehicles that were expected to use the bridge cannot be reached.
In short, the Kanal Istanbul project will not only be difficult and costly to build—if completed, it appears slated to bring new economic burdens while destroying the environment around it.
The Libya issue is getting more complicated with each passing day, but it still has yet to become as confusing as Turkey’s Syria policy. Of course, behind the curtains is the undeniable effect of Russia re-drawing borders. It still remains a question whether mercenaries sent from Syria to fight in Libya will be given Turkish citizenship.
Looking at the Kanal Istanbul and Libya issues, we can see these are not causing the same polarisation they did in the past, so they won’t really suit the AKP’s purposes very well. Snap elections or not, the AKP will have a hard time winning by using the same divisive tactics they’ve used so many times before. Although it seems the Kanal Istanbul project is the best argument they have right now, AKP voters aren’t supporting the project with the same zealousness as those coming out against it.
It’s possible to look at the canal project as something like U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to build a giant wall along the U.S.–Mexico border. It’s incredibly expensive to build, it wouldn’t be very effective, but it’s a really useful tool to be utilised during elections.
When politicians in Turkey and around the world manufacture news items, the same comic book story comes to my mind, where Lex Luthor and the Joker, the arch-enemies of Superman and Batman, announce that they will lead normal lives and go into partnership together. Although our heroes don’t believe them, whenever they try to catch them in the act, they are unsuccessful because Lex Luthor and the Joker aren’t carrying out any plots. The two criminals first take advantage of Superman and Batman’s prejudices to put them into a difficult situation, and then they attempt to distract them in order to carry out the big robbery they had planned. Although their long con has a big effect on the superheroes, the bad guys end up getting caught anyway.
Manufacturing news agendas has benefitted politicians for a long time in certain countries, but it’s inevitable that at some point their plans will fail, just like it did for Lex Luthor and the Joker. Even if people believe these fake agendas at first, over time they will become immune to them. In particular, when their daily lives start to become too difficult, all problems outside of the economy will become meaningless.
It’s extremely difficult to distract the public by hiding something as big as an economic crisis behind manufactured news stories. The opposition came out front and centre in criticizing the Kanal Istanbul project, making the public feel more comfortable to do the same, without fear of repercussions. The primary job of the opposition now is to start talking about the economy as they did with the canal, emphasising how an economic crisis harms the public and how they plan to fix it. Otherwise, Turkey risks drawing closer to the abyss by clinging to manufactured news stories.
© Ahval English
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.