A Crescent That Could Also Wane

Haftalık ekonomi dergisi The Economist, ’Hilal solabilir’ başlığı altında Türkiye’nin politik ve ekonomik olarak son dönemde yaşadığı olayları konu alan bir haber yayımladı.

Haberde “Türkiye’nin ılımlı İslami başbakanının umursamaz politik taktiklerinin, kendi hayranları tarafından bile endişe kaynağı olmaya başladığı” ifade edildi.
Erdoğan’ın, Merkez Bankası Başkanı atama süreciyle ilgili olarak söylediği, ’Endişelenecek bir şey görmüyorum’ sözlerine atıf yapılan haberde, aslında bugünlerde Türkiye’de endişe verici çok konu olduğu, ekonomi üzerinde alarm çanlarının çalmaya başladığı ve AB ile ilişkilerin Kıbrıs konusunda tatsızlaşmaya başladığı vurgulandı.
Merkez Bankası Başkanlığı sürecinde Erdoğan’a yakın isimlerin bile Adnan Büyükdeniz’in başkan adayı olmasını izah edemeyebileceklerinin belirtildiği haberde, Büyükdeniz’in faizsiz bankacılık konusunda hizmet veren İslami bir finans kuruluşunun başında bulunduğu, aynı zamanda IMF politikalarını eleştirdiği bilgilerine de yer verildi.

IMF rahatsız
IMF Başkanı Rodrigo Rato’nun, ülkenin makroekonomik kredibilitesini, tekstil konusundaki KDV indirimi ve memur maaşlarına ek zam sebebiyle kaybetme tehlikesi içinde olduğu görüşü hatırlatılırken, her iki uygulamanın da Türkiye ile IMF arasındaki 10 milyar dolarlık anlaşmaya aykırı olduğu belirtildi.
Haberde, Rato’nun, ekonomik büyüme ve enflasyonda sağlanan aşamalara rağmen, Türkiye ekonomisinin yüksek kamu borcu nedeniyle kırılgan olarak kalmaya devam ettiği görüşüne de yer verdi.
Yüksek cari açık rakamlarına dikkat çekilen haberde, rekor turizm gelirleri ve kısa vadeli yabancı yatırımlarla, açığın şu ana kadar finanse edilebildiği vurgulanırken, uluslararası likiditenin yön değiştirebileceği, bunun da, finansman olanaklarını kısıtlayabileceği ifade edildi.
Haberde ’ayrılıkçı Kürt hareketi”ndeki şiddetin arttığı ifade edilirken, “Bazı işgüzar generaller kılıçlarını tekrar şıkırdatmaya başladı” denildi.

Reform isteği kayboluyor
Maliye Bakanı Kemal Unakıtan’dan “Tartışmalı bakan” diye söz edilen The Economist haberinde, hükümetin geçen yıl ekim ayında AB ile müzakerelere başlamasını sağlayan, reformist isteğini kaybetmeye başladığı belirtildi.
Haberde, Avrupa Birliği (AB)’nin Genişlemeden Sorumlu Komiseri Olli Rehn’in, Türkiye ile ilişkilerde yıl sonuna kadar Kıbrıs konusunda bir tren kazası olabileceği şeklindeki görüşlerine de yer verdi.
The Economist’in haberinde, bütün bunlara rağmen, Tayyip Erdoğan’ın Türkiye’yi gerçek demokrasiye götürme konusunda, bu zamana kadar görülmeyen ölçüde potansiyeli olduğu belirtildi.


A crescent that could also wane

Even admirers of Turkey’s mildly Islamist prime minister are beginning to worry about his increasingly reckless political tactics

“I DON’T see what all the worry is about.” With those breezy words, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, flew to an Arab League summit in Sudan this week, after failing to defuse a spat about who should be the next central-bank governor—a row, moreover, which has rattled the markets badly.

For all his nonchalance, Mr Erdogan must know there is much to worry about in Turkey these days. Alarm bells are sounding over the economy. Relations with the European Union have soured over Cyprus. With Kurdish separatist violence on the rise, some meddlesome generals are rattling their sabres once again.

In short, the unprecedented financial and political stability ushered in by Mr Erdogan’s three-year-old government is starting to look vulnerable—and many blame his erratic behaviour. Take the central-bank affair. Even Mr Erdogan’s allies could not explain his choice of Adnan Buyukdeniz, the head of an interest-free Islamic finance house who has denounced the International Monetary Fund, as central-bank chief. The nomination was rejected by the firmly pro-secular head of state, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who is thought to have favoured keeping the outgoing governor, Surreya Serdengecti. The presidential veto coincided with a firm scolding for Turkey from the IMF.

The fund’s managing director, Rodrigo de Rato, said the country’s market credibility had been put at risk by a decision last month to slash the value-added tax paid by textile exporters and to raise public-sector wages. Both measures breached the terms of a $10 billion IMF credit line.

Mr de Rato added that despite robust growth and the taming of inflation, Turkey’s economy remained fragile because of high public debt. He might have also mentioned a high current-account deficit (see chart). Record tourism revenues and short-term foreign investment have plugged the gap so far. But with the bird flu outbreak earlier this year deterring visitors, and higher interest rates in America shifting global liquidity away from emerging markets, foreign inflows are set to drop. The IMF, meanwhile, is refusing to disburse the fourth $800m tranche of its standby facility until a social-security reform is finally adopted.

Apparently unfazed, Turkey’s controversial finance minister, Kemal Unakitan, said on March 28th that further tax breaks for different sectors were being considered. His comments pushed the Istanbul Stock Exchange’s main index down; he then said only tourism would get rebates.

On the EU front too, the government seems to have lost much of the reforming zeal that helped it, last October, to win the prize of membership talks. This week the EU’s enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, cautioned that relations with Turkey could be heading for a “train crash” over Cyprus by the end of the year.

Turkey is obliged to open its ports and airports to Cypriot-registered ships and aircraft under an agreement extending its customs union to the ten governments, including the Greek-Cypriot one, which joined the union in 2004. But Mr Erdogan has ruled out taking this step until the EU eases its trade embargo on the Turkish-occupied north of the island.

Many Turks share his view that the EU is hiding behind the Cyprus issue to sabotage their country’s membership. Disillusionment with the EU is reflected in polls that show support for membership among Turks slipping from a high of 74% to 58% last month.

Instead of working to salvage his country’s ties with the EU, Mr Erdogan has recently paid more attention to cultivating Arab and African leaders. Among them was Khaled Mashal, a senior figure in the Hamas movement who would hardly be welcome—in view of the Palestinian Islamists’ refusal to renounce violence—in any other NATO capital.

Mr Mashal was received by the foreign minister, Abdullah Gul—and had it not been for stiff American warnings, the visitor would have met Mr Erdogan. Israel said the damage inflicted by Turkey’s embrace of Hamas would be “hard to repair”. But ignoring America’s objections this time, Turkey issued an invitation to another Islamist firebrand, the Iraqi Shia cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr.

Such moves have given rhetorical fuel, at least, to Mr Erdogan’s pro-secular enemies who say he is bent on making Turkey an Islamic state. Nominating an Islamist central banker was “only one of the indications”, the secular-minded daily Cumhuriyet said in a front-page editorial.

The risks of chasing votes
A more likely explanation for the prime minister’s new carelessness is the desire to haul in votes ahead of parliamentary elections next year. Lowering taxes, raising spending and snubbing Israel and America are sure vote-catchers in a country where unemployment has reached 11.2% and pro-Islamic feelings are on the rise.

But Mr Erdogan would be well-advised to weigh the risks carefully. Much of the undeniable success of his government has been rooted in its strict adherence to the IMF programme and its embrace of Turkey’s EU goals. The turmoil that would follow any break with the IMF or the EU could allow the Turkish army to recover lost political ground. General Yasar Buyukanit, the hawkish land-forces commander, who is set to take over as army chief, has already traded blows with the government over a nasty affair in Turkey’s wildish east: a prosecutor’s indictment of three members of the security forces, accused of blowing up a Kurdish nationalist bookshop in the town of Semdinli.

The prosecutor called for the general to be investigated on charges of setting up an armed gang in the south-east to provoke tension with the Kurds and torpedo Turkey’s progress towards the EU. In a statement that read like an indictment of the government, the general staff then accused the prosecutor of harbouring a political agenda, and of targeting the secular foundations of the state. The prosecutor now faces charges of abusing his office.

With that sort of unpleasantness brewing, the government would be ill-advised to alienate the EU, whose blessing is its best insurance against the army.

As many of his qualified western admirers see things, Mr Erdogan still has the potential to bring Turkey closer to real democracy than it has ever been; but he could also go the way of many of his predecessors, as a populist failure. Perhaps the best thing about him—shown by a row in 2004 over moves to criminalise adultery—is that he can change his mind.

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