The flaws of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule have been exposed by the coronavirus, said an analyst writing for the Washington Post.
Aslı Aydıntaşbaş, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the story of a Turkish truck driver – who released a video voicing the frustrations of many working class Turkish citizens who cannot afford to follow the government’s advice to stay at home and not work during the outbreak – was revealing of the situation in Turkey today.
The truck driver addressed Erdoğan in a video that went viral: “Either I stay at home at your word and die from hunger, or I die from the virus. In the end, it’s not the virus, but your system that will kill me.” He was detained a few days after his video went viral, but was later released following a public outcry.
Aydıntaşbaş said that the episode underlined two major problems in Turkey – illiberalism and economic mismanagement. “Both have been exacerbated under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s one-man regime in ways that are now fully exposed by the novel coronavirus,” Aydıntaşbaş said in the article, published on Tuesday.
Much of Turkey is at a standstill as the Turkish government has shut down schools, restaurants, and mosques. However, some factories and construction sites are still running, and the $15-billion stimulus Erdoğan announced last week is among the lowest in the G20 countries, with only $300 million earmarked as a one-time direct payment to families in need, said Aydıntaşbaş.
She said that Turkey has long faced severe economic difficulties, and that Erdoğan’s policy of high government spending had created a construction bubble and dangerously low reserves in the central bank. “It’s a systemic problem: When one man’s will replaces all institutional policymaking, inevitably there are mistakes,” said Aydıntaşbaş.
But she said the state of Turkey’s democracy was even worse than its economy – as the Health Ministry only releases limited information on the coronavirus, and people who have questioned the government’s measures have been called in for questioning.
“For authorities, controlling the flow of information and suppressing dissent seems to be just as important as stopping the spread of the virus,” she said.
Aydıntaşbaş said that, although Erdoğan once championed democracy and made many reforms in the health care system and the economy that benefitted working class people, he was now putting the preservation of the political status quo above all else and was also violating the “authoritarian bargain”, whereby citizens accept a repressive system in return for material resources and a higher standard of living.
“In Turkey, we seem to get neither the money nor the democracy — which is why the current model is not sustainable,” she said.