Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, once the leader of a mass movement under his Justice and Development Party (AKP), has put his country’s economy in peril by succumbing to a despot syndrome that afflicts many leaders who cling to office, said David Gardner, international affairs editor at the Financial Times.
Erdoğan rose to power in 2003 and served three terms as prime minister before becoming president. By the time Erdoğan appointed his son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, to head the Treasury and Finance Ministry in 2018, he had long since sealed himself in a neo-Ottoman palace in Ankara, surrounded by sycophants, Gardner said on Tuesday.
While Albayrak, who suddenly resigned on Nov. 8, had helped poison the president’s mind against any rival and isolated him from criticism, Erdoğan was already wilfully cut off from any free flow of information or pushback, according to Gardner.
Albayrak had egged Erdoğan on to dispense with a series of central bank governors and Turkey burnt through an estimated $140 billion in foreign exchange reserves in two years in a failed attempt to defend the lira.
With the currency at an all-time low, some believe that it was finally Naci Ağbal, Albayrak’s predecessor at the finance ministry, who convinced Erdoğan that misguided policies had put the economy at peril, Gardner said.
Ağbal now heads the central bank – Erdoğan sacked his predecessor on Nov. 7 – and the Treasury and Finance Ministry is now led by Lutfi Elvan, a former deputy prime minister, AKP insider and head of parliament’s planning and budget commission.
But Erdoğan has now rid himself of almost anyone who might know which levers to pull on domestic policy, said Gardner, pointing to his jettisoning of virtually all of the co-founders of his AKP, who include previous president Abdullah Gül, former economy tsar Ali Babacan and ex-prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.
After stripping away so many layers of support, Erdoğan and his party have become dependent on extreme right-wing nationalist populists. One of the most successful ruling parties of modern times is being hollowed out and Erdoğan’s emergency switching of his economic team appears unlikely to halt that, Gardner said.