Economy top of voter concerns in Turkey’s car-making capital

With Turkey’s June 24 presidential and parliamentary elections fast approaching, the economy is top of voter concerns in the city of Bursa, the centre of Turkey’s car industry, and many voters say they are losing confidence in the track record of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Islamist government, which has been in power for 16 years.

The Turkish lira has plunged to record lows this year as investors fear political interference is hampering the central bank’s ability to fight inflation, which has remained stubbornly above 10-percent. While growth remains high, markets fear the economy will overheat and crash.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 54 percent of the vote in the 2015 general election in Bursa, one of Turkey’s most industrialised areas of the country with factories belonging to Fiat and Renault, as well as a host of other smaller automotive parts manufacturers. 

Nurten Okumuş is a 45-year-old factory worker who has turned away from the AKP.

"I was vice-president of a woman's branch of a party for three years. When I saw what it was, I withdrew, and now I'm working to bring money home to my children. I want the leaders to really value women and raise the minimum wage," she said.

Even for party loyalists, improving the economy is still top of the list of demands.

"I won't change my vote,” said Bayram Güneş, a 41-year-old textile worker. “If Erdoğan wins again, I would like him to take measures that will stimulate the economy as soon as possible.”

The secular main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), trailing in its usual second place behind the AKP in opinion polls, but is feeling more confident nationally as a result of a loose electoral alliance with a disparate range of other parties hoping to unseat Erdoğan. 

Yasemin Namdar, a CHP member in Bursa and a volunteer at one of its local women’s branches, said support for the AKP was waning in Bursa.

“We visited homes last night in the Gülbahçe neighbourhood, which was known as an AKP fortress until recently,” she said. “Currently, there are only two families in that neighbourhood who will vote for the AKP. The economy is influential in people’s choices. They all say ‘they’ve made us miserable.’” 

Unemployment rose to a 10-month high of 11 percent in January, according to the state statistics institute, but youth unemployment was almost double that at 20 percent.

"The ruling party has been unsuccessful, because the rate of youth unemployment is high” said  university graduate Barış Aygün who has been unemployed for two years.

Asked which presidential candidate gave him hope, Aygün said: "Whichever one wins, let them solve the problem of unemployment first, and then they can remove their party flags hanging everywhere."

According to teachers’ unions, there are some 500,000 qualified teachers currently unemployed. Sibel El is a 25-year-old teacher awaiting assignment in a state school.

"What needs to change the most is education,” she said. “The most important thing for the development of a country is education. I think the work done for this is certainly insufficient. You know, there are a lot of unassigned teachers. Some have committed suicide.”