2020 was a year of multiple defeats for Turkey
This past year has been one of defeats and retreats in almost every area for Turkey.
The country has turned into one of the darkest places on Earth with respect to the rule of law and freedom of expression. Its contracting economy has resulted in rampant and near-permanent poverty. Its international relations have devolved into an eerie isolation. These are not subjective expressions of pessimism; they are all based on facts.
Turkey ranked 107th out of 128 countries in the Rule of Law Index for 2020, made by the World Justice Project, an internationally renowned civil society organisation that advances the rule of law worldwide. If you divide these countries into five groups, Turkey would be in the bottom fifth.
Even worse, the same report ranks Turkey 124th for independent civil and criminal courts systems, free from improper government influence. The only four countries worse off than Turkey are Cameroon, Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
Turkey also ranks 154th among 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. In a similar fashion, we are in the bottom fifth group for free media.
One can see the many clear signs that we have dropped to the bottom league. Despite binding provisions in the Constitution, lower courts have refused to implement rulings by the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to political influence. A well-known member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said on a TV programme that “not even a child would write these indictments” – yet people remain in prison over such indictments.
If a country’s democracy is only as good as the rule of law and media freedom it maintains, then our democracy is also fifth-class.
The most striking feature of the Turkish economy in 2020 was that it sank into a cycle of perpetual impoverishment.
The gross domestic product and income per capita have both continued to drop in the last seven consecutive years, plummeting sharply in 2020. Between 2013 and 2020, one-third of the GDP disappeared, dropping from $960 billion to $650 billion. Income per capita fell from $12,500 to $7,800 in the same period.
Taking the increasing inflation rate into account, our welfare declined by more than 40 percent in the last seven years, a first since at least 1960. I couldn’t find another country in the World Bank data base that experienced such a drop within the same period.
Turkey is paying for an ideological approach to the management of economy. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said repeatedly that “interest rate is the cause; inflation is the effect”. The Financial Times estimated that the failed currency intervention has cost $140 billion over the past two years, putting currency reserves at minus $50 billion.
Tax revenues don’t even cover salaries of civil servants, deficits in social security and interest on debts, without payments on the principal. Turkey needs foreign capital.
But when you have a fifth-class rule of law, serious investors may be hard to come by.
An example of this was when Volkswagen liquidated its $1.4 billion investment in the western Manisa province, despite the AKP government providing the German automotive giant with generous subsidies.
Countries in similar situations often attract speculative investors who make windfall profits via short-term market transactions and pull out. As interest rates are suddenly raised, Turkey is now unfortunately facing such a situation. Turkey will most probably continue its descent into poverty in 2021.
Separately, the health minister said 50 million people will be vaccinated to COVID-19 by the year’s end – too little, too late. We have a population close to 90 million, including immigrants, but the contracts signed for vaccine shipments don’t even cover the 50 million as promised. Turkey's economy and tourism may suffer greatly in 2021 because of that.
In terms of international relations, Ankara faced such a heavy isolation as never experienced before.
The AKP jumps into any conflict it comes across in the region, always taking sides in a partisan way. No other country, big or small, does that.
The ruling party also has a proclivity to employ military means with ease – often before all diplomatic options are exhausted.
The primary factor that shapes AKP’s foreign policy is ideology rather than national interest; it is comprised of pro-Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) ambitions in the Middle East and an ideologically motivated, anti-West attitude in the West.
There are unresolved issues with Greece and Greek Cypriots that date back to the years before the AKP. However, the ideological posture adopted by the ruling party has resulted in a decline in relations with many other countries: Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Sudan, half of Libya, the European Union, the United States and more.
The AKP is now trying to mend fences with Israel and Egypt, so far without any known positive outcome. If the party's policies for Egypt and Israel were right in the first place, why would it want to change things?
Turkey's focus on EU membership has dissipated – even though it should be a strategic priority for Ankara – simply because of the fifth-class democracy the AKP has moulded.
These days, the ruling party has spoken about turning a new page with the EU, making it appear like a fresh start for the ascension process. Many Turkish commentators view it that way. The EU can’t ignore Turkey, whatever its regime may be – a country with a population approaching 90 million, adjacent to its borders. There must be some form of relation between the two.
But for the European bloc, it is no longer a relationship with a prospective member. The AKP has destroyed the road to EU membership. It is over. Now, the new page is about defining the nature of new EU-Turkey relations.
Another masterfully presented recent piece of discourse by the ruling party is that its current engagement in ‘reforms for democracy and rule of law’.
I recollect the famous dictum in the Italian author Giuseppe Tomasi’s book “Il Gattopardo”: for everything to remain the same, everything must change.
In a cunning way, the ruling party in Ankara is trying to implement Tomasi’s dictum with some distortion: for everything to remain the same, everything must seem to change.
I do wish you a healthy and prosperous 2021.