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Erdoğan praises economic growth as a success while Turks struggle to make ends meet

Turkey inflation

Customers shop for vegetables at a bazaar in İstanbul on September 6, 2022, as Turkey's economy is suffering its biggest economic crisis in decades. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Thursday praised the country’s economic growth as a success, even as many Turks struggle to make ends meet.

The Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) announced Thursday that Turkey’s economy grew by 4.5 percent in 2023, despite a devastating earthquake in February and other negative factors.

The expected growth for the year as a whole was 4.3 percent in a Reuters poll, near the government’s forecast of 4.4 percent.

Although expectations were exceeded, the growth rate in 2023 was the lowest since the pandemic year 2020, which saw a low of 1.9 percent growth, indicating a slowdown from the high growth rates of 11.5 percent in 2021 and 5.6 percent in 2022.

“The Turkish economy has achieved a very important success with growth of 4.5 percent last year,” Erdoğan said at a rally in Turkey’s western city of Kütahya.

The president made the remarks at a time when many Turks exist on the breadline due to the rising cost of living. The annual inflation rate in Turkey was 64.86 percent in January according to official data.

Erdoğan’s government has been criticized for its handling of the economy. The opposition has accused the government of mismanaging the economy and being responsible for high inflation.

Erdoğan has rejected the criticism and said the government is taking steps to solve the economic problems.

The Turkish economy has grown steadily in recent years, but the growth has not been enough to offset the high inflation.

A recent survey by the Confederation of Turkish Labor Unions (Türk-İş) found that the poverty line for a family of four in Turkey, which refers to the amount a family of four needs to live without feeling deprived of food and the money required to pay other expenses such as rent and utilities, was 52,955 Turkish lira ($1,695) in January 2024. The monthly minimum wage in Turkey is 17,002 Turkish lira ($544) per month.

The survey also revealed that the food inflation rate in Turkey was 77.20 percent in January 2024.

High inflation has a significant impact on the lives of Turks, many of whom are struggling to afford basic necessities such as food, housing and healthcare.

Despite the challenges faced by citizens, Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek expressed optimism about the future and emphasized the shift to a more qualitative growth model supported by investments and exports. He highlighted the improvement of the current account deficit and predicted moderate and balanced growth for 2024, with net foreign demand making a positive contribution.

Vice President Cevdet Yılmaz has reiterated the government’s commitment to sustainable and inclusive growth to improve social welfare and lift Turkey into a higher economic league. But while officials celebrate these economic milestones, many Turkish citizens face financial pressures.

Turkish media has run stories of efforts by pensioners and people on low incomes to buy meat at reduced prices. Starting at 1:30 a.m., people line up in the cold outside the state-run Meat and Milk Board office and have to wait for hours, dressed in multiple layers to stay warm. This situation underlines how far citizens will go to save their limited budgets in the face of the rising cost of living.

The queues, which can grow to over a hundred people by early morning, highlight the increasing demand for affordable food in times of economic hardship.

People who retired in the late 1990s remember a time of greater financial relief, which is very different from today’s need to queue in the early hours of the morning for basic necessities such as meat.

Inflation in Turkey soared after a currency crisis at the end of 2021 and reached a 24-year peak of 85.51 percent in October of last year. This year, the lira has so far lost some 5.4 percent of its value, compounding the cost-of-living crisis for Turks.

Over the past several years the country has been suffering from a deteriorating economy, with high inflation and unemployment, as well as a poor human rights record. President Erdoğan is criticized for mishandling the economy, emptying the state’s coffers and establishing one-man rule in the country where dissent is suppressed and opponents are jailed on politically motivated charges.

Turkey is scheduled to hold local elections on March 31. Erdoğan has vowed to retake control of İstanbul, the country’s biggest city, and the capital Ankara from the opposition, building on the momentum of his re-election in May, when he began his third decade at the helm.

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