Erdoğan sees economy merely a tool for enhancing personal power

Short-term fixes will not be sufficient for Turkish economy’s long-term fragility as it is rooted in the personalistic autocracy erected by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, professors Timur Kuran and Dani Rodrik said in their article penned for Project Syndicate. 

Economic expansions like the one in Turkey, which was based on a steady flow of foreign capital to finance domestic consumption and flashy investments, rarely ends well Kuran and Rodrik said. In the case of Turkey, Turkish lira lost nearly half of its value over the last year and a recent diplomatic row between Ankara and Washington over the detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson served as an immediate trigger pushing the country’s economy into a full-fledged currency crisis. 

In the short run Turkish economy needs measures aiming to stabilise markets, including hikes in interest rates despite President Erdoğan’s objections, tightening fiscal discipline and restructuring private-sector debts, and a possible IMF bail out, Kuran and Rodrik said. “But these short-term fixes don’t address the economy’s long-term fragility, which is rooted in the personalistic autocracy that Erdoğan has erected,” they added. 

Kuran and Rodrik said that President Erdoğan portrayed his political survival as Turkey’s supreme goal and saw strengthening his rule a higher priority than every other objective.

According to Kuran and Rodrik, the logic of Turkey’s new political system under Erdoğan “harks back to the Ottoman “circle of justice” that divided the population into taxpaying masses and a small tax-exempt elite headed by a sultan who was subordinate only to the Sharia (Islamic law), though in practice he himself defined what it meant.”

The new executive presidential system in Turkey leaves no place for competent politicians and bureaucrats whose goals may transcend the leader’s self-interest, silences businessmen, academics, and journalists, and surrounds Erdoğan with yes-men and yes-women, Kuran and Rodrik explained. 

Autocracies can sometimes prosper when their leaders prioritise economic policies, as it has been the case in China and other Asian countries, but when economics becomes merely another tool for strengthening the autocrat’s personal power, the economy necessarily pays the price, Kuran and Rodrik added.
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