Turkish parties large-handed in election pledges

The election pledges of Turkish parties strain the limits of both the imagination and the budget.

al-monitor Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes his speech during a rally against recent Kurdish militant attacks on Turkish security forces in Istanbul, Sept. 20, 2015.  Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

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voters, turkish elections, turkish economy, social services, incentives, hdp, ahmet davutoglu, akp

Oct 12, 2015

Economic pledges stand out in the election manifestos that Turkey’s political parties have announced ahead of the Nov. 1 snap polls, called after the June 7 elections produced a political deadlock. Targeting a wide range of social groups — retirees, minimum-wage earners, farmers, women, the young, the jobless and the indebted — the promises strain both the imagination and the limits of the country’s budget.

Representing two bulky vote reservoirs, the 11 million retirees and 5 million minimum-wage earners are accorded special attention. Unlike the June 7 polls, when only the opposition made pledges to these two groups, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in play this time.

Other promises include the wiping out of credit card debts, an opportunity for young men to do the obligatory military service during summer vacations, discounted airplane tickets and reduced fees for the issuance of passports. The election manifestos abound with financial incentives, up for grabs to anyone in return for votes. With bigger parties greatly loosening the purse strings, the smaller ones often come up with overblown pledges in the comfort of knowing they will never have to deliver them. Some, for instance, have pledged to raise the minimum wage five times to 5,000 Turkish lira ($1,700), others to abolish the offside rule in soccer and widen the distance between the goalposts.

The generosity in election pledges is a Turkish political classic. Two decades have passed since a leading party made the memorable promise of “two keys” — a car and a home — for every citizen. No one has ever asked where the keys are.

When it comes to pledges of more democracy, justice, human rights and freedoms, the clientele is limited, almost next to naught. Hence, economic pledges rule the campaigns.

Scrambling for another four-year term, the AKP — in power since November 2002 — has promised to add 100 Turkish lira ($34) to retiree pensions and raise the minimum wage from the current 949 Turkish lira ($324) to 1,300 Turkish lira ($444). Other pledges in the party’s 300-page manifesto include a 5,000 Turkish lira ($1,700) state contribution for young couples that tie the knot and 50,000 Turkish lira ($17,000) in support for young entrepreneurs.

AKP Chairman Ahmet Davutoglu has made generous pledges also to Turkish immigrant workers abroad — decreasing the fee for paid military service from 6,000 to 1,000 euros ($6,820 to $1,136) slashing by half the $217 fee for the issuance of Turkish passports and extending the periods in which expatriates can use foreign-registered cars and mobile phones in Turkey, in addition to a 20% discount on Turkish Airlines flights.

Davutoglu has said the cost of the AKP’s manifesto pledges will be 19 billion Turkish lira ($6.5 billion), while claiming the promises of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) cost around 150 billion Turkish lira ($51 billion).

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, meanwhile, argues the ruling party has “cribbed” his party’s pledges to hike retiree pensions and the minimum wage. The CHP manifesto promises a peaceful and tranquil Turkey, away from unemployment, poverty and internal enmities.

The CHP pledges include wiping off at least 80% of the interest rate burden on accumulated credit card debts, a minimum wage of 1,500 Turkish lira ($512), a discounted diesel price for farmers, two bonus pensions for retirees on the two main religious holidays each year, the abolition of public university fees, gratuitous stipends for university students with limited financial means, shorter military service terms, an opportunity for students to complete their military service in three-month installments during summer vacations and the lifting of payments Turkish expatriates make in return for exemption from military service.

For its part, the MHP pledges an interest-free marriage loan of 10,000 Turkish lira ($3,420) for young people and a higher education voucher of 10,000 Turkish lira for successful students.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, meanwhile, promises that the lowest pension and minimum wage will be 1,800 Turkish lira ($615), in addition to tax-free diesel and fertilizers for small farmers, gratuitous stipends for students and the recognition of the right to conscientious objection to military service.

Today’s politicians may look different from their predecessors, but a distinction is hard to make when it comes to election pledges. Some of the memorable promises of former prime ministers include the late Suleyman Demirel pledging to deliver “five times more what others give,” Tansu Ciller pledging “two keys” for everyone in 500 days, and the late Necmettin Erbakan promising an airport in every city and 5,000 locally produced tanks for the army.

Small parties that have never passed the 10% threshold to enter parliament do not shy away from bold promises either, earning their leaders a fame in their own right. Besim Tibuk, former head of the Liberal Democrat Party, for instance, had pledged to abolish the offside rule in soccer and widen the distance between the goalposts, while former Youth Party Chairman Cem Uzan had promised to lift university entry exams and reduce the diesel price to 1 Turkish lira ($.34) per liter.

For the upcoming elections, Haydar Bas, leader of the tiny Independent Turkey Party, has pledged 15,000 Turkish lira ($5,122) for new mothers, a 500 Turkish lira ($171) wage for housewives and a minimum wage of 5,000 Turkish lira ($1,700). Such pledges, however, won him only .18% of the vote in the June 7 polls.

In the absence of supervision and accountability, parties freely make all kind of promises. Yet voters are fed up with promises and judge by what enters their pockets. At present, more than 10 million people receive monthly financial support and regular handouts of food and coal for heating from government agencies and municipalities. This type of assistance has proven influential in swaying voter sentiment. It is also the secret behind the AKP’s 13 years in power and the some 40% support the party still retains.

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