Mar 26 2019

Cheap food stalls become political battlefront in Turkey elections - Atlantic

State-provided affordable grocery shopping is at the front line of Turkey's upcoming local elections as the country has been facing stagflation, recession, and surging inflation, The Atlantic said on Monday.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seeking to maintain his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) control of Turkey's largest cities in local elections on March 31 while opinion polls indicate the economy is the top worry for voters due to soaring food prices and widespread unemployment, according to the Atlantic.

Last month, the AKP started selling cheap fruit and vegetables in city squares in various cities to prevent major losses across the nation.

"His (Erdoğan's) efforts are, however, part of a broader pattern: Already firmly in control of many aspects of Turkish life, from the judiciary to the press, Erdoğan is, critics say, now trying to strong-arm policy prescriptions for the economy," the Atlantic said.

Erdoğan won sweeping executive powers after his victory in the 2018 presidential election, gaining the votes of millions of devout Muslim working-class Turks after delivering years of stellar economic growth and overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, airports, hospitals and schools.

Now, even if Erdoğan's name is not on the ballot, he has been leading near-daily rallies ahead of the polls since a weak showing at the elections could bring unexpected outcomes in the delicate period that the country has been going through, according to the Atlantic.

“This isn’t just an economic crisis, but a political crisis at the same time,” said Uğur Gürses, an economist who used to work for Turkey’s central bank. “The belief that you can control prices with an iron fist … is unsustainable in an open economy.”

Authorities last month launched an investigation into supermarket chains over claims of exorbitant water, vegetable and fruit prices, and police raided warehouses in different parts of the country suspected of stockpiling onions and potatoes to curb soaring inflation.

Turkey’s president blames rising costs on a foreign conspiracy and has lashed out at opposition politicians for whipping up a fake campaign of economic hardship.