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Turkey in a week – June 15, 2018

The economy is still the main topic in Turkey. After the announcement of higher than expected inflation figures on 5th of June (bringing annual CPI to 12.15% in May from 10.85 in April), The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey held its scheduled Monetary Board Meeting on Thursday and hiked its key policy (repo) interest rate by 125 basis points to 17.75%, making Turkey’s interest rate to be one of the highest in the world. With this rise (third in last 2 months) the Central Bank hoped to stabilise Turkish Lira which depreciated 13% in the second half of May leading 300 basis points increase in Central Bank’s late liquidity window rate after an emergency meeting on May 23. This rise had a limited impact on Turkish Lira as experts think the rise came very late and the Central Bank was still avoiding to touch its key policy rate. The Central Bank has been sidestepping to change its key policy rate and instead using its late liquidity window rate to intervene the markets. Having been under tremendous pressure from President Erdoğan not to increase interest rates particularly as the snap elections is coming, the Central Bank has been ignoring the calls to simplify its complex interest rate policy until last week when Mehmet Şimşek and Murat Cetinkaya paid a second visit to London just a week after Erdoğan’s disappointing visit. Çetinkaya revealed in London that the Central Bank is planning to simplify its rate policy and a week later the Central Bank had to increase its main policy rate after the high inflation figures. Turkish Lira gained 2.2% against dollar to 4.4, following the rate hike, the lowest since 24th of May. Even though the Central Bank’s rate hike decision was welcomed by the markets, its credibility is still questionable. Even though the limited appreciation in Turkish Lira is good for Turkey’s private sector with high foreign exchange debt, rise in interest rates is bad for the economy in general, particularly for the construction sector with the high building stock struggling to sell due to high interest rates along with increasing production costs.

As the election day is approaching, it has been leaked that President Erdoğan has already started to plan his moves after the elections. As Aldemir’s piece argues, upon his winning the presidency, Erdoğan plans to change the structure of the state bureaucracy. The duties and power of authorities such as Undersecretariats, General Directorates, Department Heads, Branch Directorates will be passed to the Deputy Ministers in all ministries. The adaptation to the new system will in large be made with the Presidential decrees and the vice presidents will be considered the highest-ranking bureaucrats. With these structural changes in the state bureaucracy, Erdoğan hopes to bring the old organization structure of the state bureaucracy in line with the Presidential Government System, leading a better consolidation of his power.

Turkey has been accused of violating freedom of press and freedom of expression for a long time. According to The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU)’s Democracy Index for 2017, Turkey has the lowest index number of 4.88 among Western European countries and freedom of expression and press violations are the main reasons behind this low ranking. Hence, one of the main headlines for the coming elections is inevitably how the parties will approach these basic human rights and how they plan to solve the problems in this area. Özer’s piece compiles the commitments and promises that the parties make regarding freedom of press and expression. While there are several promises concerning the freedom of press and expression in the bulletins of the opposition parties, the ruling party has asserted that they “expanded the freedom of press”. The common promises that appear in the election manifestoes of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party (İP), the Felicity Party (SP) as the components of the Nation Alliance and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) are “removing the censor on the press, providing a pluralist venue for the media, distributing the income sources like public advertisements, preventing monopolization in the media sector, freeing the RTÜK (Radio and Television Supreme Council) from being an apparatus of oppression”. However, the detainee journalists are only mentioned in the CHP’s and the HDP’s manifestoes. Both parties have made the commitment that the detainees would be released, while the Felicity Party has put the annotation of “not getting involved in crime”.

The AKP, in her election bulletin, argues that during her reign the prohibitions on freedom of expression have been removed and freedom of press was expanded. This interesting piece from AKP’s election bulletin contradicts completely what the observers and aforementioned Democracy Index suggest: “In our 16 years long reign, most of the legislations were reviewed and many restrictive, anti-democratic regulations were removed. We changed the basic laws that were imposed to the society during the coup periods. We removed the obstacles to freedom of expression and expanded freedom of press. We added the statement that “any expression of thought aiming at criticism does not constitute a crime” for all regulations for the crimes concerning freedom of expression, and we guaranteed freedom of criticism. Because of their being crime apparatus, banning the seize of the printing houses, their appurtenances and printing equipments, and their retentions from operation, became a constitutional rule. Thousands of past publication bans and confiscation commands were terminated. We liberated thousands of banned, seized, confiscated publications.”

Many observers agreed on that Erdoğan has not been experiencing his best election performance. While the presidential candidates from the opposition parties, particularly Muharrem İnce, seem to have grabbed a rising trend, Erdoğan seems to struggle and make lots of mistakes in his rallies and TV programs. Although the fact that opposition parties experience a serious blockage by mainstream television channels, Erdoğan’s TV ratings are very low and İnce, who is luckier relative to the other opposition candidates in having limited appearances on TV channels, enjoys very high TV rankings. All these facts and election surveys indicate that President Erdoğan needs a powerful weapon not to lose the elections in this limited time left until 24th of June. Erdoğan and AKP political figures said that they could carry out a ground operation on the Qandil Mountains in northern Iraq, where the leadership and major camps of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are based. These statements have been assessed as a move targeting the elections instead of achieving any concrete results regarding the fight against PKK on the grounds that AKP and Erdoğan used the Afrin operation for domestic politics as well.

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