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Ergun Babahan
Aug 10 2018

One-man rule will bring heavy price for Turkey

Far from the tales of heroism broadcast on Turkish historical drama series, history is a science that, properly read, can save a society from serious errors.

Yet in Turkey, children have grown up viewing these television dramas as accurate representations of history, resulting in a public convinced that a strong leader can return the country to its days of glory.

For Turkish conservatives those are the days of Ottoman sultans Süleyman the Magnificent or Abdülhamid II, while secularists pine for the revolutionary period of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

This belief, amplified by a compliant and uniform media proclaiming Turkey to be a world power, and aided by the dark electoral arts of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has led the country to one-man rule under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And, like all one-man regimes, the country is on the way to disaster.

Recent examples including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya have shown the heavy price one-man regimes exact on their societies.

A remarkable factor in Turkey’s case is that the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), driven by its key members’ suspicion and distaste of the West and Western-style democratic rule, has thrown its support behind this new system and its destructive trappings.

The end result has seen the country surrendered to Erdoğan, who since his inauguration as the country’s first executive president on July 9, has put together an arbitrary regime staffed by his son-in-law, finance minister Berat Albayrak, and other lackeys, and has openly driven the country to the brink of ruin.

The full gravity of the situation, and the dynamics that make collapse under one-man rule inevitable, have been discussed by economists and analysts observing Turkey this week, with an article published by Bloomberg clearly setting out the facts.

In short, it described how saving Turkey’s rapidly sinking economy could only be achieved by persuading Erdoğan to make a 180-degree turn on his economic policies. But the likelihood of convincing the president, who is still busily laying out plans for megaprojects worth billions, is nil.

That is why the lira has been losing several percent in value per day, and why the risk to bonds increases daily. Foreign investors are far from eager to set foot in the economic mire Turkey has become.

If Erdoğan stuck to the rules recognised by most economists, he would not have sidelined the respected and experienced financial operators Ali Babacan and Mehmet Şimşek and handed the reins of the economy to his son-in-law.

Besides, Western investors well know that the president, who seems to be against interest rates as a matter of religious principle, is unlikely to raise them until the very last moment before collapse.

Saddam had a chance to pull back from the brink of disaster when Turkey suggested he withdraw with his family to a neutral country before the 2003 Iraq War, and Adolf Hitler’s generals begged him not to attack the Soviet Union in 1941, a mistake that hastened Nazi Germany’s demise.

Economically speaking, Turkey is now in the same situation, on the verge of a financial crisis that will make the last one, at the turn of the millennium, appear light. Every economist watching the country says the same; it will leave millions unemployed, companies bankrupted, and, possibly, the state unable to pay its employees’ wages.

The head of the Banks Association of Turkey announced this week that the rate of risky debt in Turkey had climbed to 15 percent, amounting to a serious threat to the country’s banks and at risk of a debt crisis that could dwarf that faced by Greece in 2010.

Societies led by one man end up paying a heavy price, and that is what appears to be in store for the people of Turkey. When the day comes, they will realise that the country is not quite as big a player on the world stage as they had supposed.