Under pressure from rampant food inflation ahead of elections, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Turks to reflect on the “price of a bullet” rather than the soaring cost of staples like tomatoes and potatoes.
“What is the cost of my soldier’s uniform and the struggle he’s giving against terrorists, think about it!” he said at a rally in the central city of Sivas on February 8. “It’s our government which is undertaking this [fight].” Those who criticised officials over food prices only played to the interests of foreign powers who wanted to undermine the country, the populist president added. Erdogan referred to such powers as “Hans or George”.
The March 31 municipal elections are coming to be seen as a referendum on how the Turkish leader and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) party have governed since he became Turkey’s first executive president, taking on sweeping powers, after the snap parliamentary and presidential polls of June last year.
Roaring inflation, coming in the wake of last summer’s currency crisis, has hit poorer sections of Turkey’s 81mn-strong population, people that have traditionally supported the president’s party. And, although opinion polling in Turkey is rather unreliable, there is some evidence that the AKP is struggling to retain voters.
Patriotic, nationalist support
Prior to elections, Erdogan and the AKP typically step up warnings about Turkey’s fight against Kurdish separatists and drum up other issues likely to secure patriotic and nationalist support, and this time around things are certainly no different. Over the weekend, Turkey also launched an attack on China over its alleged systematic mistreatment and repression of its Turkic-speaking minority population in Xinjiang region. Erdogan, meanwhile, is keeping observers on tenterhooks as to whether he will launch more cross-border operations to go after Kurdish “terrorists” in Syria.
Turkey’s annual inflation rate was 20.35% in January, while food inflation, at 31%, was at its highest since at least 2004. Official data showed, for instance, sweet green pepper and tomato price increases of 88% and 39% month on month, respectively. Food inflation was aggravated by terrible weather conditions, which, for instance, brought flash floods that hit farmers in the fertile Antalya province.
Supermarkets put on notice
Erdogan has put supermarkets and speculators on notice that unreasonable price gains will not be tolerated. Officials have introduced a plan to sell cheaper fruit and vegetables via outlets run by municipal authorities. Rather than risk the wrath of officials over high prices, some supermarkets in Turkey have entirely stopped selling some more expensive types of vegetables.
Berat Albayrak, the finance minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, told NTV television late on February 7 that municipal sales would start this week, at 50 locations in Istanbul and more than 30 in Ankara.
A Bloomberg report told how Harun Altinsoylu, a barber in the southeastern city of Kahramanmaras, has come up with an alternative solution to the cost of feeding his family—filling his home with hundreds of tomato, cucumber and green pepper plants. “We aren’t making much money, and we need to economise,” Altinsoylu, 32, said by phone.