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Erdoğan ratchets up public spending to woo disenchanted voters as elections approach

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks during his party's group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) in Ankara on October 19, 2022. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has unleashed a wave of public spending in recent months to win back support from disenchanted voters ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14.

On Wednesday Erdoğan promised a reduction in electricity and gas bills.

In his weekly speech to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) parliamentary group, he announced a 15 percent discount on electricity for all customer groups starting in April as well as a 20 percent discount on the price of natural gas used by industry, also starting in April.

On the same day, the president promised an increase in the monthly minimum wage, currently at TL 8,500 ($444), a week after announcing an increase for pensioners.

In an interview with NTV on Thursday, Erdoğan announced a TL 2,000 ($105) increase in pensions, bringing the lowest monthly pension to TL 7,500 ($393).

Two weeks before the pension hike, a new law for massive tax relief passed by the Turkish parliament was published in the Official Gazette.

The Law on the Restructuring of Certain Receivables and Amending Certain Laws was published in the Official Gazette on March 12 and is widely referred to as the “tax amnesty of the century.” The law allows individuals who owed taxes, fines, student loans, traffic fines or social security contributions before Dec. 31, 2022 to pay the amount due in 48 equal installments.

Also on Wednesday Erdoğan promised to employ 1,000 people in mines and praised their hard work in search and rescue efforts following devastating earthquakes that struck the country in February.

Turkey was hit by two major earthquakes centered in Kahramanmaraş on Feb. 6 that affected 11 provinces, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions homeless. Erdoğan was criticized for his poor response to the disaster.

In the aftermath of the earthquakes, Erdoğan announced a series of mega-projects to improve the economy. These include housing for earthquake victims and rebuilding cities within a year.

According to experts, while it is theoretically possible to build hundreds of thousands of homes within a year if safety measures and legal standards are waived, building earthquake-resistant homes and creating a settlement with the necessary infrastructure for millions is impossible to do in such a short time.

In December 2022 Erdoğan lifted the retirement age requirement for more than 2 million workers, allowing those who began working before September 1999 and have completed 20 to 25 years of social security-registered working life to retire immediately.

In recent speeches and interviews Erdoğan has focused on the daily needs of the Turkish people and promised to relieve them financially and help them with other forms of assistance. He makes election promises to mitigate the effects of the earthquakes and improve the economy.

Erdoğan, who has been in power for 20 years, is facing his toughest challenge yet as an increasing number of opinion polls show him trailing the opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

While the first decade of Erdoğan’s term was marked by rapid economic growth, prosperity has declined in the last 10 years, which has affected his popularity with voters. Many hold the president responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis in recent years and for a poor response to the twin earthquakes that hit the country’s south.

Erdoğan’s promises are seen as an attempt to win back the support of disappointed voters and secure his position as president for another term. Whether the moves will return dividends for him on May 14 remains to be seen.

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