Turkey has 'alarming' lack of economic vision, says former president

Abdullah Gul accused the current leadership and President Erdogan of not having a long-term plan for the economy

Former Turkish president Abdullah Gul in April, 2009. Reuters
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Former Turkish president Abdullah Gul accused the country's leadership of lacking an economic strategy, which he said has led to a dire financial situation.

In an interview with Turkish newspaper Karar, the man who helped found the ruling AK Party said that since early successes in bringing rapid economic growth after winning power in 2002, the government steadily lost focus.

“There is a lack of strategy based on the long term, on analysis and on expertise,” said Mr Gul, who served as prime minister from 2002 to 2003 and president from 2007 to 2014. “This situation is worrying.”

Turkey's economy is set to contract by 5 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, after expanding 0.9 per cent last year. Inflation is running at 11.4 per cent and the country's currency has lost about 13 per cent of its value against the US dollar so far this year.

He said that the only thing currently keeping the country afloat was the foundation paved by the AKP’s early successes, in which the party dramatically cut inflation, pushed unemployment down, slashed government debt and boosted gross domestic product growth up to and above 10 per cent.

But now, Mr Gul said, “economic indicators are going seriously backwards”.

Turkey's economy is stuck in the doldrums, battered by a combination of bitter spats last year with the US that risked major sanctions, a plummeting currency and slumping growth. The lira hit a record low of 7.26 against the dollar in May despite billions in foreign reserves released by the central bank to prop up the declining currency.

“The desire seen in 2002 gradually began to break down over subsequent years,” he said. “The vision disappeared with time.”

Mr Gul pointed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s transformation of the country from a parliamentary to a presidential system as being a root cause of the malaise at the heart of government.

“There must be a parliamentary system that is based on power separation,” Mr Gul said. “Because this is the way to ensure democratic ideals in Turkey and a state based on the rule of law. It is also the basis of sustainable economic growth.”

Mr Erdogan passed the sweeping changes in 2017 with a national referendum, abolishing the role of prime minister and making the president – himself – both head of government and head of state.

Mr Gul is the second former senior AKP official to take shots at Mr Erdogan over his handling of the country and his autocratic tilt in recent years.

Mr Erdogan’s former deputy prime minister tasked with handling the economy, Ali Babacan, said this month that Turkey now lacks “credibility” and claimed that official data put out by the Turkish Statistical Institute was unreliable.

Mr Babacan quit the AKP last year over "deep differences" with Mr Erdogan and the direction of the party. He has since founded his own party to take on his former boss at the polls.