New York Times: Turks suffer from Erdogan's policies

At a recent rally to open the campaign before municipal elections in March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heckled by a group of public workers demanding jobs. But he was having none of it.

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According to New York Times other supporters cheered, drowning out the protest. But it was a moment telling of Mr. Erdogan’s vulnerability as ordinary Turks feel the deepening pain of the country’s economic slide for the first time in his 17 years in power.

It added, "After long unbroken growth, Turkey is entering a recession amid falling investor confidence and a credit crisis. Bankruptcies have increased. Unemployment and inflation have hit double digits. Rising prices, especially at the vegetable markets, have become a national obsession."

The newspaper said that the widening economic crisis now presents the president’s Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., with one of the stiffest challenges yet to its important base of support in small towns and cities as the local elections approach.

Erdogan, who remains popular, has led his party’s campaign. But while he may be able to whip some members into line, the economy is unlikely to be so easily moved.

The newspaper added, "at the local level, indicators show its support to be slipping. The party failed to win a majority in parliamentary elections last year, forcing it to go into a coalition with the Nationalist Movement Party, and it faces a similar test in local elections March 31."

Some polls show the party’s popularity hovering just around 30 percent. Even pro-government columnists and insiders are warning that it is losing popularity, blaming corrupt or incompetent local officials.

Cevdet Yilmaz, deputy chairman of the A.K.P., denied the party was slipping in the polls at a news briefing last month but admitted that opinion polls showed an exceptionally high number of undecided voters.

The newspaper also said that the shoppers and traders in Istanbul’s neighborhood markets were reluctant to voice criticism of the government, but the tension over prices was evident. One shopper said her hands were trembling as she handled peppers that have tripled in price in recent weeks.

And most interviewed were cleareyed about where the problem of rising prices lay. Storms destroyed greenhouses, ruining much of the green pepper crop this year and causing a shortage.

“Turkey’s fundamental problem about food prices is the agricultural policy,” said Ahmet Atalik, the head of the Istanbul branch of the Chamber of Agricultural Engineers.

The government turned to importing foodstuffs, and as a result, farmers could no longer earn a living, and have steadily abandoned their fields. “They move to the cities, they just quit,” Mr. Atalik said.

In the 17 years of Mr. Erdogan’s rule more than 7.4 million acres of farmland, an area roughly the size of Belgium, has been taken out of cultivation. The number of registered farmers has dropped from 2.8 million to 2.1 million in the last 10 years, he said.

A.H

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