The value of the Turkish Lira has plummeted by more than 60 percent during 2018. And a large part of the decline has been fuelled by the country’s standoff with the U.S. With President Trump unwilling to reconsider his sanctions against Turkey unless they accept his demands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a tough time holding onto power.
The currency crisis
The currency decline is the country’s worst economic crisis since 2001. And many business leaders have been warning Erdogan to quickly resolve all disputes with the U.S. before the Turkish economy plummets into darkness. “The interest-rate hikes and budget cuts will be painful. There will be bankruptcies,” The New York Times quotes Atilla Yesilada, an Istanbul-based consultant at Global Source Partners.
However, many are unsure whether their warnings would have any effect on Erdogan given that the Turkish president has a tendency to surround himself only with advisors who reaffirm his own views. This ends up blocking out any objective analysis of the situation and keeps feeding Erdogan with a very biased view of the ongoing crisis.
What Turkey needs is immediate and radical structural reforms to tide it over the current crisis. This involves allowing for increased freedom of the press, increased power to the parliament, an independent judiciary, and so on. But such a distribution of power runs counter to Erdogan’s tendency to centralize all state powers to himself.
Turkish sentiment and Erdogan’s power
Despite the downward spiral of the country’s currency, Erdogan has managed to keep his people committed to him for now. This largely has to do with his control over the media and the brainwashing of Turkish citizens by evoking nationalism and Islam to combat what he says is a U.S. economic war on the country.
However, for Turks who keep themselves plugged into international news sources, Erdogan is mostly seen as the root cause of Turkey’s current situation. “The minority of Turks who get most of their news from the Internet and social media, and who therefore hear alternative views on the matter, were considerably more likely to blame the government for the depreciation (47 percent) than they were to blame foreign governments (34 percent),” a survey by The Washington Post shows.
But all is not lost. Erdogan can instantly end the currency crisis and get Turkey back to economic stability by doing a very simple thing — release pastor Andrew Brunson, whom Turkey has been keeping imprisoned on charges of plotting a coup against Erdogan. The pastor has denied such accusations and has constantly said that he is innocent. President Trump had already made it clear that the conflict resolution between the U.S. and Turkey will only begin once Brunson is released.
“Look, the Turkish government made a big mistake in not releasing Pastor Brunson. Every day that goes by, that mistake continues; this crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release pastor Brunson without condition,” Reuters quotes John Bolton, National Security Adviser of President Trump.
Erdogan will likely hold off releasing the pastor since that would make him look like submitting to the U.S., which would damage his reputation in the country and make him look weak. But if the currency crisis continues and Turkey gets pushed to the brink of a never-ending economic slide, public anger will be unimaginable. And then, Erdogan will have to choose between pride or his position as the president of Turkey.