The irrationality of lies

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been harping on the same string for the past 20 days now about the official car that Turkey’s top cleric had to return in the face of a massive controversy about extravagance.

Erdoğan first publicly criticized the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate, Mehmet Görmez, for returning the car, saying he wouldn’t have done that if he were in his shoes. Then he began castigating those who had criticized Görmez for having the vehicle, bringing forth the example of rich people who drive luxury cars, without mentioning, of course, that those vehicles are actually bought with the individual’s own money. Afterwards, Erdoğan said these “TL 300,000-worth cars” should no longer be described as a luxury, since everybody can drive one, without mentioning the taxes that push the price of these cars up to over TL 1 million, or $380,000, on the domestic market.

The following day, Erdoğan assigned one of his armored cars to the cleric’s service and promoted this step as a “good tiding” to the voters of the party he evidently favors. The latest step was a declaration that he would actually assign a private jet to Görmez, since he is the leader of Muslims in the region and therefore similar to the pope in the Vatican for Catholics, and as such he should also have the privilege of reaching Muslim-populated countries with ease. His claim that the pope has his own jet was refuted by the papal office in the Vatican, but even after that, he saw no problem in repeating the same lie at a public rally on Wednesday.

Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek also got involved in the debate by defending the money spent on the official car, saying that it constitutes such a small amount that is “peanuts” in the overall budget. I just tried to sum up the story in a few lines, and don’t know if the president and the government members will continue to chew on the same gum until the election. They may consider that extending the debate over the religious authority’s rights could sound alluring to the faithful voters and hence we may continue to hear them talking more on this topic. Or, Erdoğan may simply be seeing the return of the car as a defeat.

But this might not be so good for Erdoğan and the party he supports. A majority of Turks are definitely sensitive to religious issues, but they are also very clever when it comes to money-related issues. When the president says that driving an upmarket car, which cannot be owned without forsaking a million lira, is not indulgence, then they will surely compare this with their own misery and discern more sharply just how grave is the poverty in which they are trapped. When Erdoğan claims that this over-the-top car is no longer a luxury, people will unavoidably question why the state levies a special consumption tax (ÖTV) on the car. The ÖTV increases the car’s price more than 200 percent. When Şimşek calls the allocations for the official car “peanuts,” people will wonder why their plea for increasing the minimum wage to a more reasonable level by at least giving up the tax on them is turned down “for their own benefit.” Or maybe they will not ask a single one of these questions and continue booing the opposition over its promises to increase the minimum wage.

I am in Leipzig to attend the International Transportation Forum, the ITF 2015, which brings the cream of the crop from all around the world to talk about the hot topic of transportation. There are ministers and senior bureaucrats from more than 30 countries, high-level managers of international institutions such as the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank (WB), CEOs of large conglomerates as well as economists and pundits.

But the participation from the Turkish side is limited. I would like to see someone from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) here as well. They announced a very ambitious project to create a new city in Anatolia as a logistics hub. The Turkish hub project is one of the backbones of their election campaign and I have no doubt that once achieved, it will carry Turkey to a new league. There were a lot of opportunities to listen to the experiences of other countries that have launched similar projects in the past and are still progressing with them. They had the chance to exchange opinions about the prospects their ambitious projects promise with international experts first hand.

The government was also not very interested in the International Transport Forum (ITF), the unique platform that brings decision makers together from around the globe. The transportation minister didn’t even show up, and instead sent his deputy and the deputy of his undersecretary. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu accused the CHP of plagiarism, since the hub project had been included in a book they published to outline their commitments for the future of the country. I believe their ideas are confined to the lifeless pages of books.