Turkish Government Slashes Food Prices As Election Nears

Recently, in two of Turkey’s largest cities, Ankara and Istanbul, authorities have opened their own stalls to sell staple Turkish vegetables at half their price, in an effort to battle what they deem “food terrorism.” According to Reuters, the state believes that this is a direct result of actions made by retailers in the food industry. Others attribute rising food prices to the increasing labor and transport costs, as well as to the recent floods that have hit agricultural plots in the Antalya region.

As a consequence, food prices have risen up to 31%, compelling the government to intervene by opening 65 total sales points between the two municipalities. According to ABC News, the stalls operated by the government buy produce directly from farmers, eliminating any intermediary commissions. The vegetables on offer are limited, however, and buyers cannot purchase more than 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) per person. While well-received by some citizens, many have seen this as a move by President Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party as a ploy to appease the people before the March 31st elections begin.

In a campaign rally on Monday, February 11th, President Erdogan brushed off the inflation as a “terrorist attack” brought on by “unidentified powers bent on playing a game on Turkey”. Can Selcuki of Istanbul Economics Research refuted the idea, arguing that, “… The real reasons behind the hike are the structural problems in our agricultural sector. Are their people trying to use this to their advantage and make money? Of course, but the scale is marginal.”

Reactions among those in the state have been quite divergent. According to Al Jazeera, Handan Kececi, a Turkish mother of three is of the opinion that, “At least the government is helping us with high prices.” However, many have also cited the repercussions of the government’s actions on local businesses. According to Al Jazeera, a local stall owner who goes by the name of Faith, argued that, “The municipality’s sales points don’t have to pay tax or rent. It is unfair competition. Our profits are very low. I make barely enough to care for my family.”

It can be observed that the state of the economy plays a large role in the current party and their future in the elections. That being the case, it may be true that this is no more than a last-ditch effort to appease the people so that they may vote in favour of President Erdogan’s party. And to the international community, what this may have proven is that the President has denounced many in the agricultural sector as mere political pawns, jeopardizing the profitability of their businesses, all for the sake of political gain. In the time of inflation, it is the job of the state to, not only intervene, but do so in the best interest of the state. In this case, the solution could have been found in driving down the transport costs and repairing infrastructural damage caused by recent floods.

Intervention in the agricultural sales by Erdogan’s administration had occurred after multiple instances of the administration blaming current downturns in the Turkish economy on unidentified forces intervening in the country. In light of the recent inflation, local authorities have performed inspections that have resulted in 88 firms being fined a total of $380,000.

According to the Washington Post, while the government points fingers towards traders and outsiders, the rise in prices is largely attributed to the depreciation of the Turkish lira last summer. In August, the lira had lost as much as 33% of its value against the dollar after a diplomatic disagreement with the United States. Inflation hovered around 20% back in January, with food and non-alcoholic beverage prices hiked up to 31% on the year — a 15-year high. By contrast, inflation for such goods in the U.S. and Europe have been around 2% or less. The devaluation of the Turkish lira has resulted in imported goods being more costly for many Turkish citizens. Recent floods have only exacerbated the domestic market’s sales.

Despite Erdogan and his party’s attempt to win over the citizens prior to March 31st, the prospect of success seems dubious. If they continue to crowd out the market, they may win over citizens with more affordable prices, but it will also come at the cost of many displeased and displaced workers. For now, it seems that the only thing that the international community can do is to remain optimistic for the looming elections and to ensure that the voices of all citizens are heard.