Tough-talking Erdogan lashes ‘imperialist’ West

Turkish President and Leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addresses the crowd at Ankara Sports Hall during the unveiling of the AK Party’s Election Manifesto in Ankara, Turkey on April 11, 2023.—AFP
Turkish President and Leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addresses the crowd at Ankara Sports Hall during the unveiling of the AK Party’s Election Manifesto in Ankara, Turkey on April 11, 2023.—AFP 

ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday condemned “global imperialists” and played up Turkey’s might as he unveiled his Islamic-rooted party’s manifesto in next month’s knife-edge parliamentary and presidential polls.

Thousands of exuberant supporters packed a sports arena in the capital Ankara for the announcement of his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) blueprint for winning the May 14 vote.

Tens of thousands more rallied outside in a show of Erdogan’s enduring strength in the face of his toughest election test.

The event was aired live by all Turkish news channels and drowned out coverage of a similar rally being held by the opposition in the western city of Canakkale at the same time.

The 69-year-old leader is confronting public anger over a raging economic crisis and the government’s delayed response to a February earthquake in which more than 50,000 died.

Polls show him running neck-and-neck or losing to secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The AKP’s future control of parliament also appears in grave doubt.

But Erdogan sounded unfazed as he paced up and down the stage with a microphone while delivering the type of blistering performance that has helped him win more than a dozen elections over two decades.

“Turkey has no choice but to be strong, to stay strong and to keep getting stronger so that it does not fall back into the pit of political and economic bondage,” he declared.

Islamic world watching

He referred repeatedly to a failed but bloody 2016 coup attempt and cast his rivals as pawns of foreign governments who were meddling in Turkey’s affairs.

“We are here to open the door of the Turkish century together with our nation standing up against coup plotters and global imperialists,” he said.

Erdogan also openly embraced his party’s socially conservative traditions and appealed to the wider Muslim world.

“The AK Party, beyond being a political party in the classical sense, is a movement that has a cause, a dream, a vision, and a conscience,” he said.

“The whole Islamic world is watching what happens on May 14.”

Polls show Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu heading to a runoff on May 28.

But May 14 will definitively determine whether Erdogan and the AKP are able to keep control of parliament through an alliance with a far-right group.

Erdogan stripped the legislature of much of its powers in the second decade of his rule.

The opposition wants to reverse the process by regaining control of parliament and then giving ministries and other institutions more freedom to act on their own.

Either side’s success will be partially determined by whom voters trust more to pull Turkey’s once-booming economy out of its most dire crisis during Erdogan’s entire rule.

Strong economic team

Turkey’s inflation rate touched 85 % last year and the lira lost nearly half its value due to Erdogan’s unbending desire to achieve growth through ultra-low interest rates.

Erdogan dubbed it the “new economic model” — an experiment that few other nations have attempted but which the Turkish government has refused to give up.

The AKP programme hints at a possible policy reversal but offers few concrete details.

“A strong economic team will again take charge in the new cabinet,” the manifesto said.

“Our economic team will update our macroeconomic policy framework in dialogue and consultation with the public, the private sector and civil society,” it added.

Some analysts saw this as an opening for a potential return to the government of economists with more traditional views.

Current members of Erdogan’s government have ruled out hiking interest rates after the election to levels that analysts believe can help restore trust in Turkey’s economic path.

The manifesto repeated an old pledge to bring down inflation “to single digits” while maintaining annual growth rates of 5.5 % of gross domestic product.

“Hard to understand how these numbers add up,” BlueBay Asset Management economist Timothy Ash remarked in an emailed comment.

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