President’s lavish spending irks voters

The lavish spending, the excesses and indulgence of Turkeyand’s chief political Islamist, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stands in a sharp contrast to the economic woes of millions in this country — especially with the burgeoning of urban and youth unemployment — culminating in a big disconnect between the government and the people.
Nobody can understand why Erdogan has to have a new palace that cost some $2 billion in construction and millions more in monthly maintenance while habitually indulging himself in record-breaking expenditures that are not subject to any rigorous auditing. The former president, Abdullah Gandul, occupied the decades-old presidential office in andcankaya Palace. In fact, his wife, Hayrandunnisa spent a considerable amount of money on renovating and modernizing this historic residence and its adjacent buildings. Erdogan chose to abandon this place that was once home to the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatandurk.
President Erdogan talks the talk when it comes to how Muslims should live in piety and act in a humble manner, but he surely does not shy away from engaging in spending bonanzas for himself and his family. He even arranged to have a large stable and indoor riding arena built for his daughter so that she can ride horses when the original architecture plan did not include such a feature.
On the other hand, the Turkish people continue to suffer economic difficulties. The purchasing power of consumers has eroded significantly with the Turkish lira declining in value against foreign currencies. Unemployment is on the rise, consumer debt is soaring and food prices have doubled. No tax relief is in sight for people who struggle to sustain their lives on the minimum wage.
The most troubling sign is the level of youth unemployment in a country where half of the population is under the age of 30. According to the 34-member the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), around 5.3 million out of 17 million young people in Turkey aged between 15 and 29 were classified as and”not in employment, education or trainingand” (NEET) in 2013, topping the list at 31.25 percent and ranking higher than all other OECD members. The current figures are certainly worse.
On the campaign trail, I noticed that Turks are increasingly disenchanted with Erdoganand’s leadership and turned off by his lavish lifestyle that is wholly financed by taxpayersand’ money. His love affair with an extensive fleet of late-model luxury Mercedes and high-profile countryside visits — often accompanied by a large entourage of bodyguards — have clearly alienated people and have even antagonized some of his former supporters. The low turn-out for the rallies he has led is an indication that he no longer is able to attract enthusiastic participants and therefore has to increasingly rely on civil servants, school kids and laborers who were forced to mobilize for these events with threats and orders from their superiors.
He speaks two to three times a day, broadcast live by pro-government TV networks and he conducts interviews or delivers speeches in hall meetings organized exclusively to provide a venue for him to talk some more during the evening hours. Since he has been repeating the same talking points — heavy on rhetoric and light on substance — the lack of public enthusiasm and a visible disinterest in what Erdogan has to say has become more obvious. The poor ratings his interview received this week on primetime are a testament to that bitter fact.
Although Erdogan seems oblivious to the criticism of his extravagant lifestyle, this nevertheless constitutes an important factor in the eroding popularity of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of the June 7 elections. Coupled with that, the ongoing economic downturn in Turkey with more and more people struggling to make ends meets under the heavy burden of credit debt is dealing a blow to the support for the government.
The cash infusion into the campaign by Erdogan — who taps into slush funds he created exclusively for himself right after his election as the president — confirms how he became savvy at exploiting government resources for populist appeal. He thinks the extravagant lifestyle created an aura around his leadership, projecting magnificence as well as helping to maintain the patronage system he has helped build. The fact is that nobody is left around him who has the courage to give sound policy aice. This lavish lifestyle has totally backfired on him and the ruling party. It precipitates Erdoganand’s fall from the good graces of his people who elected him to the higher office in the first place.
Defying all common sense in politics, Erdogan and his familyand’s lavish lifestyle is out in the open, giving the public something to complain about and compare with what they have. His children have been busy grabbing prime real estate from Treasury-owned land across the country, purchasing more freighters to build a cargo fleet, and constructing skyscrapers that are all financed by credit drawn mostly from state-owned banks.
Just like authoritarian leaders in the Middle East and Africa where state funds are pillaged to support the extravagance of public officials, Erdogan is letting others in his government get a piece of pie. He does that openly and blatantly, poking the people in the eye. His public insistence on bestowing the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs with a luxury Mercedes and a private jet is a good example of how Erdogan has lost his way in politics.
The opulence with which Erdogan and his family live has created resentment towards the ruling AKP government that has become powerless to rein in the excesses of the first family. Weand’ll see the backlash in this election cycle from voters who not only dislike but hate what Erdogan represents, as more people grumble about economically challenging conditions. People seem to have bought into the opposition argument that funds that could have been invested in programs for job creation were wasted on a palace and the generally lavish spending of the president.
Turkey is not a country that is rich enough in natural resources such as oil and gas to sustain such overspending by its rulers. The government raises revenue by taxing personal and business income, mostly through indirect collection systems, such as levying taxes on goods across the board, which widens income inequality further. Erdoganand’s lavish palace and extravagant lifestyle which squander this hard-earned money have become a serious liability for his political survival and a heavy burden for the AKP government to carry.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman