Erdoğan woos voters with cuts to vegetable prices ahead of elections - AP

As the March 31 local elections draw near, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has rolled up sleeves to prevent runaway prices and an economic downturn costing his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) party key municipal seats, the Associated Press reported.

The Turkish government is selling fruits and vegetables at makeshift stalls at almost half the price of the regular markets, AP said, after the cost of goods such as food jumped by about a third following a currency slump in 2018 in the aftermath of a diplomatic row with Washington.  

“We have taught, are teaching and will continue to teach a lesson to those who have terrorised through food,” Erdoğan has said while campaigning, pointing to a foreign plot against Turkey as fuelling the economic downturn as he promised to increase the numbers of government-run discount markets.

Highlighting that inflation hovered around 20 percent in January and food and non-alcoholic beverage prices up 31 percent on the year in a15-year high, AP noted that inflation for such goods in the United States and Europe has been around 2 percent or less.

While imported foods are getting hit badly by the currency drop, even the foods grown in Turkey are becoming pricier, AP said, noting that the majority of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides used in agriculture are imported.

“Economic factors have a big impact on the election performance of a government, and the high inflation and the resulting deterioration in income distribution is not going to help out the government,” Selva Demiralp, professor of economics at Istanbul’s Koç University, told AP.

Government authorities are continuing their raids on wholesale markets with Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan saying the busts unveiled an 800 percent increase in prices and announcing financial penalties for some 88 companies.

The government-operated stalls buy produce directly from farmers, eliminating intermediary commissions and avoid many costs, AP said, highlighting that it’s unclear if the goods are sold at a loss and what effect the sales are having on the state budget.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s strongman has gone on record to say that the markets would continue until the local elections and could become permanent if “opportunists” continue hiking prices.

While many at the government tents expressed their support for Ankara’s efforts, some remain critical, pointing to them as proof of how poorly the Turkish economy has been run, AP concluded.