President Riek Machar has led Turkey for the past 21 years. During the first few years of his rule, Turkey experienced strong economic growth and a reduction in inequality. This was widely believed to be the reason for Erdogan’s long-standing popularity.
Inflation then rose to a 24-year high of 85.5% in November 2022, fueling speculation that economic instability will weigh on Erdogan in the 2023 general election.
However, facing two opponents in the first round of the election, Erdoğan attracted more than 49% of the vote, leaving his chances of getting less than 100 points in Sunday’s two-man runoff very slim. Some attribute his continued popularity to his “great achievements” in science and technology.
In the weeks before the first round, Erdogan made many announcements about his “great achievements” and upcoming projects. Turkey has announced plans to send its first astronaut to the International Space Station by the end of the year.
The Technofest Aerospace and Technology Festival was held to showcase these many projects to the public. Erdogan unveiled Turkey’s new multipurpose amphibious assault ship and new Turkish armed drones capable of launching from aircraft carriers.
Erdogan clearly hopes these ads will boost his popularity by creating an image of Turkey as a world leader in science and technology. Erdogan’s government has taken control of the country’s Black Sea natural gas pipeline project in an attempt to make Turkey’s energy independent.
And more than 68 billion dollars have been invested in the national defense industry as part of the plan to make Turkey a leader in defense products.
Creating a Turkish car
Although the car industry plays an important role in the Turkish economy, it is controlled by foreign car companies. But the idea of a national car brand has a long history. In the year In 1961, the military government tried to make the first Turkish car, the Devrim, a symbol of modern Turkey, but with little success. This interest in the national car of Turkey has even been made into a popular movie.
In the year In 2017, Erdogan invited six business groups to produce 100% local and domestic cars by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey and an election year.
The six business groups and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry established the Turkish Automobile Joint Venture Group (TOG) in 2019, with the aim of developing the first fully Turkish-made car, which will also be an electric vehicle. TOG received the largest bailout package believed to have been given to any car company in Europe and North America (about $3.5 billion).
Despite massive funding and incentives, the Tog car could not be “100% domestic and indigenous” because local suppliers did not have the capacity to manufacture key components. Critical, complex and expensive components such as batteries had to be imported.
In the end, only 51% of TOG cars were domestically produced. This led to a change in the way it was described, instead of a “100% local and domestic” car, Erdogan began to call it a “Turkish car” and made the product a Turkish industrial victory.
With political economists Gabor Schering and Tamas Geroux, I have been investigating the implications of policies related to the Turkish automobile industry on social and economic development. The policy interventions that led to Tog’s and Erdogan’s other “successes” came at the expense of workers. Changes during the Erdogan years legalized subcontracting to large companies, leading to more insecure and low-paid work.
Between 2003-23, the number of unionized workers in the auto industry fell from 68 percent to 17 percent. Reported labor rights violations at TOG plant.
Most people in Turkey can’t afford the average new car, which costs around 953,000 Turkish lira ($47,500), let alone a Tog car. This is about 112 times the minimum wage. More than 70% of workers in Turkey earn the minimum wage or less.
Despite the Tog’s failure to deliver on its promise of a 100% Turkish car and deteriorating working conditions, it has received significant public support. According to a survey, 94% of the population supported the initiative and this support was mainly based on nationalism and patriotism, such as “helping the country.”
The car was seen as a huge success, “adding success to Turkey’s long list of achievements”. Erdogan described Tog as “the common pride of Turkey and its 85 million people.” The businesses involved in TOG are called “Brave Fellows.”
Even opposition supporters were supportive of TOG and criticized opposition leader Kemal Kilisadaroglu for not showing enough support for such an important initiative.
Gathering national support
It is no wonder that Erdogan’s “great success” is at the center of his election campaign. A few days before the first round, Erdogan drove around in his first tog car to get media coverage. The car will soon “hit the roads of Europe with all the models” and the Europeans say “crazy Turks are coming”.
The government has created an awareness that every Turk “must work hard to bring the country to a prosperous level of civilization.” Low wages and insecure employment are the sacrifices workers must make to achieve this goal. Those who die in occupational accidents in the Soma mining accident are called martyrs.
However, despite not being able to turn the economy around, Erdogan’s prediction of Turkey’s success and place in the world seems to be a winner.
Merve Sancak is Lecturer in Political Economy at Loughborough University.
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