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Opposition slams Erdoğan for citing Islam to defend rate cuts amid currency crisis

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been harshly criticized by senior opposition figures for citing Muslim teachings to justify not raising interest rates to stabilize the Turkish lira.

Erdoğan said in remarks aired by state television late Sunday that his Muslim faith prevented him from supporting rate hikes. The president has pushed the central bank to sharply lower borrowing costs despite the annual rate of inflation soaring to more than 20 percent.

Economists believe the policy could see consumer price increases reach 30 percent or higher in the coming months.

Islamic teachings forbid Muslims from receiving or charging interest on loaned or borrowed money.

When his opinion was asked about Erdoğan’s remarks citing Islamic teachings, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said he had concerns about the president’s mental health.

Pointing out that interest rates for small business owners and farmers were not lowered, Kılıçdaroğlu said the policy to keep interest rates low benefits the banks over the ordinary citizen.

“We are up against an organized form of evil. Evil is being done to 84 million [citizens]. Who gains from this?” he asked.

Garo Paylan, a deputy from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said Erdoğan, by his remarks on Sunday, openly declared that he did not recognize the authority of the secular constitution.

Referring to Article 24 of the Turkish constitution, which forbids a rule based on religious doctrine, Paylan said Erdoğan’s remarks were a flagrant violation of the constitution.

Paylan also said Erdoğan’s low-interest-rate policy was not in accordance with Islamic teachings.

“If you deem interest ‘haram’ [forbidden according to Islam], I ask you, is a 19 percent interest rate ‘haram’ and 14 percent permitted? Can you claim that two glasses of rakı [a Turkish alcoholic beverage] are haram and one glass is permitted?”

Paylan challenged Erdoğan to go with zero interest rates if he was sincere about his beliefs.

The president’s push for 500 basis points of interest rate cuts since September has set off Turkey’s worst currency crisis in two decades, with the lira losing 35 percent of its value in the last 30 days alone.

The currency fell to as far as 17.91 to the dollar, an all-time low, and was at 17.81 at 1440 GMT.

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