Turkish lira plunges as Erdoğan claims mandate to continue divisive rule

<span>Photograph: Ali Unal/AP</span>
Photograph: Ali Unal/AP

The Turkish lira has hit a record low after the election win of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a renewed sign of the economic troubles his country is expected to face in the third decade of his rule.

The lira fell against the dollar as Erdoğan pronounced victory. On Monday morning, the US investment bank Morgan Stanley predicted the Turkish currency would drop further this year, reaching 26 or even 28 to the dollar more quickly than previously anticipated.

Addressing his supporters from the balcony of the presidential palace in Ankara on Sunday evening, Erdoğan struck a hawkish tone after his victory, taking swipes at his political opponents and committing to continue his unorthodox economic policies before reciting a nationalist poem.

The Turkish leader was triumphant after a win over his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, fending off an unprecedented second-round election challenge to beat the head of the opposition with 52.16% of the vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.84%.


“This result will tempt Erdoğan to say he can stay the course,” said Soner Cagaptay, a biographer of the Turkish leader and an analyst at the US thinktank the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Cagaptay pointed to Erdoğan’s comfortable 4%-winning margin, the result of a divisive election campaign during which both sides deployed misinformation and the incumbent labelled his opponents supporters of terrorism, securing a mandate to continue the same rogue foreign policy decisions and unconventional economic policies of recent years.

Can Semercioğlu of the factchecking organisation Teyit said: “There was a huge amount of disinformation deployed before the elections. It seems we will keep seeing this disinformation across television and social media.”

Erdoğan’s ability to secure a third term in an increasingly polarised country, against a concerted challenge to his leadership, had previously seemed in doubt. Just three months before, his presidential sedan weaved between mounds of rubble where grieving citizens hunted for their relatives’ bodies after two powerful earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.

Across the country, citizens complained of a biting cost of living crisis, one that Erdoğan recently attempted to remedy temporarily by providing free natural gas for a month and hiking the minimum wage a second time shortly before the election.

The election result, including a win for Erdoğan in regions affected by the earthquakes, suggested that among the electorate he had risen above criticisms often directed at his Justice and Development party (AKP) even if the conditions causing objections to his rule remained.

When pronouncing victory, Erdoğan reiterated promises of free natural gas to his supporters, boasting of Turkey’s economic independence from the International Monetary Fund and repeating his belief that cutting interest rates would reduce, rather than increase, inflation.

“Resolving the problems caused by the increases in prices due to inflation and compensating for the welfare losses will be the most urgent items on the agenda of the upcoming days,” he said, adding: “It is not difficult for us to resolve these problems.”

Erdoğan reiterated a promise to continue a policy of repatriating Syrian refugees after riding a wave of hardline nationalist sentiment that saw the former ultranationalist presidential candidate Sinan Oğan joined him to declare victory in Ankara.

The same nationalist sentiment also resulted in the most rightwing parliament in Turkey’s recent history, prompting observers to warn that Erdoğan was likely to increase attacks on the LGBTQ+ community and women. Declaring victory on top of a bus near his residence in Istanbul, he urged his supporters to join him in labelling every opposition party “LGBT”.

Cagaptay said the culture wars were where Erdoğan thrived, adding: “The opposition tried to make this election about the economy, about the aftermath of the earthquakes and corruption. Instead, Erdoğan made it about how he was able to defend Turkey against terrorists, identity politics and polarisation.”

Ziya Meral of the Royal United Services Institute agreed. “The alliance that brought him to power this time was underwritten by a nationalist voter base, but also designed to create a sense of urgency among his supporters that whether it was Kurdish militants, western-oriented liberals or foreign powers, they all wanted to topple Erdoğan with this election,” he said.

Meral added: “What he’s doing is what we’ve seen cultural conservatives do across eastern Europe and even in Russia, claiming that our way of life is under attack and ‘I’m standing up for traditional values’. After winning on a ticket like this one, a complete 180-degree turn into inclusive and conciliatory language would be surprising.”

Erdoğan missed no opportunity to push his base to keep up its fight, directing its ire towards local elections next year where the AKP will try to reclaim control of Turkey’s largest urban centres. His nemesis, Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, released a message encouraging opposition supporters to fight on. “Everything is beginning anew,” he said.