Does it matter that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just named as his chief adviser a former journalist who alleges that foreign powers have tried to kill the Turkish prime minister by telekinesis?
Here are some reasons why Tuesday’s appointment of Yigit Bulut, a Sorbonne graduate who has also alleged that Lufthansa is plotting against Turkey (pictured), may be of relevance.
One of the big questions asked about the country these days is whether Erdogan really believes the conspiracy theories he has invoked, in which he has blamed the country’s mass protests on a murky “interest rate lobby”, the international media and foreign forces.
Bulut has been a vigorous supporter of the interest rate lobby theory in his newspaper columns, in addition to alleging during the protests’ height in June that “there is a constant push for Mr Erdogan’s death through telekinesis, remote influence and many other efforts”.
Erdogan’s stance on such talk is no small matter, as foreign investors and diplomats attest. The prime minister is the overwhelming power in a country in which he has steadily added to his clout during a decade in office, which has seen him win three elections.
The last few weeks has shown several instances in which supposedly independent Turkish institutions appear to have fallen in line with his preferences – whether by making a former governing party MP editor-in-chief of a seized newspaper, fining television channels that screened extensive footage of the protests or launching an investigation apparently spurred by his denunciations of the interest rate lobby.
Indeed, as Timothy Ash of Standard Bank wrote in a note on Tuesday, Erdogan’s rhetoric also appears to have affected the central bank’s efforts to defend the Turkish lira, as investors shy away from emerging market currencies in anticipation of the US Federal Reserve reining in monetary stimulus.
“The central bank are clearly now highly sensitive to hiking policy rates due to all the political noise about the interest lobby – hugely disappointing as I think this damages the credibility of the central bank,” Ash wrote. “If the central bank is tasked with managing the market, but one of its key tools is taken away (policy rates) I think it is going into the battle with one arm tied behind its back.”
Instead of raising rates, the central bank sold $2.25bn in foreign exchange on Monday – Ash says this compares with some $40bn to $42bn in net reserves and about $100bn in gross reserves excluding gold. The bank has also held back from lending to the market at lower rates.
Meanwhile, on the political front, the backlash continues, with authorities on Monday opening Gezi Park, the green space at the heart of the demonstrations, but using tear gas and water cannon on protesters shortly afterwards. A number of people who sought to re-enter the park were arrested, including two people from Taksim Solidarity, the group that sought to organise the protests, whose homes were subsequently searched on Tuesday.
Against such a backdrop of continued confrontation, Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish writer who has backed Erdogan in the past, says Bulut’s appointment shows that the prime minister takes the conspiracy theories seriously – if only because he wants to use them as propaganda ahead of presidential elections next year.
That of course may have consequences of its own. Akyol says: “It seems Erdogan’s need to maximise the vote in the presidential race is more important to him than Turkey’s relations with the West [the target of many of the allegations]. I’m worried about this newly discovered nationalism and where it is going to go.”
Additional reporting by Funja Guler
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