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Ruling AKP lawmakers urge Turks to live on a shoestring as inflation bites

(Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Two lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) made headlines over their remarks urging Turks to embrace frugal living standards in the face of soaring inflation.

“If we buy two kilos of meat under normal circumstances, then we can buy half a kilo instead. We can buy two tomatoes instead of two kilos. We can buy three peppers instead of buying a kilo,” AKP lawmaker Zülfü Demirağ told reporters on Monday.

Demirağ’s remarks drew ire, and many people rushed to express outrage on social media.

“Shall we eat cake as well?” one user tweeted, referring to the infamous proclamation from 17th or 18th century France.

But behind the sarcasm lies the stark reality of Turks slipping into poverty.

Poverty in the country has both expanded and deepened during the pandemic, which hit at a time when the country was already in dire financial straits amid economic turmoil ongoing since 2018.

Many people struggle to fill their shopping baskets with staples which seem to grow more expensive by the day.

The cost of flour has skyrocketed, with a 50-kilo sack twice its July price, resulting in bakeries shutting down operations in some provinces amid government pressure to keep the price of bread low.

“We may have to subsist on bread and onions for months, but we’ll never make concessions on our security to anyone,” Uğur Aydemir, another AKP deputy, said on Tuesday.

Aydemir’s remarks came as the Turkish lira weakened to a record low of 13.49 to the US dollar on Tuesday, before recovering to 12.45 at around 5 p.m.

AKP figures blame the weakening lira on “foreign powers launching an economic attack on the country.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said a day earlier that the government would “emerge victorious from this economic war of independence,” in reference to Turkey’s War of Independence, which was fought between 1919 and 1923 and led to the foundation of the Turkish Republic on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The lira has been by far the worst performer of emerging economy currencies this year due mostly to what some analysts have called an economic “experiment” by Erdoğan.

Under pressure from Erdoğan, the central bank cut its policy rate last Thursday by 100 basis points to 15 percent, well below inflation of nearly 20 percent, and signaled further easing.

Turks are converting their lira into foreign currencies and gold to try and preserve their dwindling savings as a result.

In power for 19 years, Erdoğan peppers his daily speeches with imagery of the country “rebounding” and growing into “one of the largest economies in the world.”

However, Erdoğan’s AKP is sliding in opinion polls ahead of elections scheduled for no later than mid-2023, reflecting the sharply higher costs of living.

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