Despite deepening economic crisis, Erdoğan finds sympathy in strongholds of AKP support

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by Leo Kendrick

Amidst record devaluation of the Turkish Lira in recent weeks and polling from recent months showing large erosion of support for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Peoples’ Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) coalition, Medyascope‘s Turkish-language series (Cumhur İttifakı’nın kaleleri) reporting from strongholds of AKP support around Turkey has continued its tour across the country. Interviews with locals from these areas have revealed constituents loyal to the president despite the deepening crisis, skeptical of opposition challengers and eager to attribute Turkey’s problems to other culprits. 

Ali Deniz Çakır spoke to locals in Kasımpaşa, İstanbul, a district of Beyoğlu where President Erdoğan was born and raised. Many expressed indifference towards the Lira’s rising exchange rate against the Dollar, expressing sentiments that these changes were either not occurring or unrelated to the local economy: “The rise of the Dollar and Euro isn’t connected to us. If you want, make it 50 Lira.” Another local operating a fruit-selling stand in the same neighborhood denied that recent devaluation had affected the prices of his products, saying “We have no business with the Dollar, those who have Dollars should concern themselves with that. We do business in Liras.

Others in Kasımpaşa, while acknowledging the existence of economic hardship, did not place blame on the President’s shoulders and instead attributed the problems to broader, global issues outside of President Erdoğan’s control, with one individual characterizing the global economy in a state of collapse: “The world is nearing its end. The dollar is reaching 14 Lira all around the world.” “They say there is a crisis but I don’t believe it. Right now in Turkey, we have issues, but let’s not forget, there are issues all around the world.” Absolving the president of responsibility for the current economic strife, another said “Sure, there is unemployment, but with whom is he [Erdoğan] supposed to deal?” 

Another local interviewed by Okan Yücel in the Central Anatolian city of Konya also placed Turkey’s recent struggles in the context of broader global problems, saying “When you look at the world, you see there are lots of issues. So of course these issues will reflect on us [Turkey]. Of course there are problems.” This citizen mentioned he had previously voted for Erdogan and had not yet made up his mind as to whether he would continue to support the President, saying “We’ll see.”

Disenchantment with Turkey’s opposition politicians also featured prominently in many interviews. One citizen in Kasımpaşa, when asked how he viewed opposition policies, said “What policies, do they even have policies? If they do, say. They just criticize, they are telling fairy tales.” Confident that the president could overcome any opposition challenger, another said “The ‘reis’ will always win,” referring to President Erdoğan using an endearing Turkish word meaning “leader”, “chief”, or “captain”.

Another common theme encountered in Medyascope‘s reporting from AKP strongholds was allegations among many citizens of stockpiling practices by traders and merchants as being responsible for Turkey’s economic hardship. One local from Kütahya told Medyascope‘s Ufuk Çeri“The high cost of living has no relation to Erdogan. Expensiveness is due to traders stockpiling goods.” Another voter interviewed by Zelal Direkçi in Ankara’s conservative Sincan district expressed similar sentiments, saying “Prices are rising because of stockpiling…There are those who are obsessed with taking advantage, who have stockpiled, and they have made a mess of the market. People who were already poor have become poorer.”

Stockpiling practices bearing responsibility for Turkey’s economic crisis was not the only theory espoused by the President’s supporters in these districts. Others explained the country’s hardship as the result of outside powers. Describing what he views as a plot to hinder Turkey’s economic progress, one voter in Kütahya said: “Outside powers are doing this in order to bring Turkey backwards.” Another in Ankara’s Sincan said “No matter who comes [to power] this is an outside game. We mustn’t be deceived by this game. They are attacking Turkey from all sides.”

Despite the president’s firm base of support in many of these areas, some current and former AKP voters expressed dissatisfaction and frustration with Turkey’s economic plight. One from Konya said “I voted for this government three times. But now for me the AKP era has finished. Mansur Yavaş [Mayor of Ankara] would be the ideal candidate. If Yavaş runs against President Erdoğan, I will vote for him.”

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