Currently the Turkish government has too many items on its plate for which they need to convince the public. With the economy shaking households to the core, many of these items, which are difficult to market in their own right, are becoming much harder to sell for the government. Even the strongest rhetoric falls short of diverting the electorate from the real problems at hand. The government simultaneously is fighting the perception fight over Kanal Istanbul, "the national car" and military agreement with Libya are on the top of the list. This is all happening when the minimum wage increase is a measly 15 percent one off tax are being introduced to supplement the budget and fiscal space is no more.
The Libyan affair
Turkey recently signed a maritime jurisdiction agreement signed with the Sarraj government in Libya. In a quid per quo arrangement, Turkey is now sending military support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) to aid in its fight against General Hafter. The nature of the support seems to be one that includes advisory and consultancy. However, experts warn that Turkish military involvement could quickly turn operational which would mean the Turkish military could get stuck in mission creep.
The public was much more conducive to accepting cross border operations in northern Syria. It was commonly accepted that the Syrian policy of the government was wrong from the beginning but now Turkey could not let the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara sees as the Syrian arm of the designated PKK, take root right across its border. Hence the support for operations Euphrates Shield and Peace Spring were above 75 percent according to Istanbul Economics Research polling.
Similarly, experts argue that the conflict over drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea could have been everted with better foreign policy. But now that we are where we are, in a position in which we cannot talk to Egypt or Israel, the agreement with Libya, albeit causing Turkey to send troops, is the only choice. The potential benefit of this decision is too distanced from the public life. Particularly, if the mission turns into an operational one, it will be very difficult to explain to the public why we are indeed in Libya.
Debate over the mega Kanal Istanbul project has the potential to turn into an existential one between the government and the opposition in general. In politics, emotional arguments hold sway just as much as rational arguments. For now, İmamoglu has all the emotional ones. His motto against the project reads “Either the Kanal or Istanbul”. If Erdoğan loses this debate, it could be very costly for him.
Erdoğan has a fascination with mega projects. He is the builder of the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the third airport in Istanbul along with many other large-scale infrastructure projects. These helped him win elections in the past but this time he is advocating for a white elephant at the worst of times. In a shaky economy with 14 percent unemployment rate, increased taxes and no fiscal space, Erdoğan will have to convince an increasingly environment aware Turkish public, that resources should indeed be allocated to this project now. This time he has a worthy opponent in the debate. Istanbul Mayor İmamoglu is putting up a tough fight against the project.
"The national car"
Of the three items on the agenda "the national car” that was unveiled last week is the only positive impact one. It was well received by most of the opposition as well, even causing cracks among opposition ranks. There are still some years before production is realized. Like many other projects that are underway, there is little transparency regarding future of the project. This leaves open space for opposition to fire. Even for a well received project like the national car, the Government must fight its way to convince the public.
In short, Erdoğan's government has too many items on the agenda that are hard sells. And the economy isn’t even one of them.