COVID-19 and Turkish policy making
As more and more countries adopt stringent controls on the movement of people across their borders as well as effecting quarantine and mandatory social distancing policies, Turkey’s leaders must learn to accommodate themselves to being cut off from and cutting off others from regular face-to-face interactions. If handled well, Erdoğan’s response will be praised by supporters and opponents alike, if not, it will cause anger by the public.
Economic reassurance: Borrowing from the example of numerous other national leaders, President Erdoğan outlined a package of economic measures to soften the blow of a partial shutdown of economic activity in Turkey engendered by the restrictions on travel and social gatherings. Ironically, this came soon after suggesting that the coronavirus outbreak, if survived, will present opportunities for Turkish companies as international manufacturers and investors shift away from China. Like his American counterpart, his initial messaging is confusing and self-contradictory.
EU and Refugees: One clear result of the COVID-19 outbreak is the stiffening of EU spine against a repeat of 2015’s tsunami of migrants, which in turn revitalized the fortunes of xenophobic nationalist parties in Europe. That Erdoğan and European leaders held a four-way video teleconference underlines the impact the virus outbreak is having on joint decision-making efforts. The virus outbreak only serves to enhance the EU’s commitment to stop the migration of Syrian or other nations’ refugee now residing in
Domestic politics: At home, while the package of fiscal stimulus proposals will likely mitigate some or much of the economic consequences of the virus outbreak, political difficulties pose a greater challenge. Pressure from the citizens to stop the movement of Syrians across the border into
Erdoğan is a hands-on politician. He likes to go out and meet people, to hold rallies, to walk among the crowds of supporters. In this way, he is quite like his American counterpart. Also like President Trump, his initial missteps appear to be giving way to a realization that the virus outbreak threatens not only the lives and health of people in
Politically more importantly, the draconian domestic regulations in the
As a unitary state in which all decisions flow from the top, any constraints on speech, movement, assembly, congregating are seen as actions by the President – unlike Trump’s situation, any resentment of restrictions imposed will be directed at the top of the political pyramid. And though Erdoğan is likely to blame others for any failures in policy making or implementation, Turks understand their political system and know who to hold accountable for decisions affecting the nation.
If many Turks do not die, and we must all hope and pray that the number of deaths is mercifully few, Erdoğan will be lauded for having saved the Turkish people from a situation like Wuhan province in China or Lombardy in Italy. All missteps and misstatements will be forgotten. But like the adventure in