The novel coronavirus pandemic has reinforced Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule amid a period when he was endangered by the country’s ailing economy, Henry Jackson Society associate fellow Simon A. Waldman said in an op-ed for World Politics Review.
“If anything, the coronavirus crisis has strengthened Erdoğan’s hand,” Waldman said.
According to the article, the split opposition, silenced independent voices and resources that are already at the state’s disposal have helped Erdoğan remain in power.
Despite the bleak economic situation facing Turkey, the coronavirus crisis has helped the Turkish leader and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) survive and increase his approval rating by 15 percentage points, from 41.1 per cent in February to 55.8 percent in March, Waldman said.
The coronavirus reached Turkey in March, and the country has implemented restrictions since then. The total death toll reached 4,397 this week, but the rate of new infections and deaths has dropped significantly since it peaked in April.
When COVID-19 arrived in Turkey, the country was already enduring a difficult economic situation that has persisted since a currency crisis knocked nearly 30 percent off the lira’s value in 2018. Waldman said the pandemic had offered the Turkish government a way of shifting the blame.
“And for now, the pandemic offers Erdoğan and the AKP a convenient excuse for the ailing economy,” he said.
The academic added that the government would use the chance to propagate the message that despite it being the biggest public health crisis in a century, which has harmed many worldwide economies, “Turkey got off comparatively lightly.”
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Turkey’s economy will shrink by 5 percent in 2020, driving up inflation to 12 percent and unemployment to 17.2 percent. Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak has predicted that the economy will grow this year despite the damage caused by the pandemic.
Waldman also said that Turkey’s opposition has had major problems challenging the government during the coronavirus pandemic crisis because it is so divided.
“The CHP also suffers from internal divisions that it will need to resolve if it wants to pose a true challenge to Erdoğan,” he said, referring to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). But Waldman said the party could unseat Erdoğan if it tried “to win the hearts and minds of the AKP traditional conservative base.”
Mentioning other opposition leaders such as Ali Babacan, Turkey’s former economy minister who was once an important ally of Erdoğan and helped found the AKP, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, the former foreign minister and prime minister, Waldman underlined the insufficient responses these politicians offered throughout the pandemic.