As Turkey prepares for June elections, the government’s 13-year hold on power is facing a new threat: diminishing faith in its long-trusted economic management.
Since coming to power on the heels of a financial crisis, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has dominated Turkey’s political landscape, winning six consecutive elections. Even after a spate of protests and corruption scandals, it scored a convincing victory in local ballots last year.
But hit by a combination of stagnating economic growth, weakening investor confidence and concerns over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, the AKP is entering an election with a majority of voters saying the economy is poorly run. That is emerging as a real risk to Mr. Erdogan’s continued political ambitions.
An April survey from Metropoll Strategic and Social Research Center showed 57% of voters disapproved of the government’s stewardship of Turkey’s $800-billion economy, while those approving hit a record low of 34%.
In May, consumer confidence slumped to its lowest level since March 2009, when the global financial crisis pushed Turkey into a recession. Unemployment—now ata five-year high of 11%—tops voter concerns, Istanbul-based Koc University found in an April survey, where participants said the government is failing to provide economic growth.
“Our business isn’t doing well at all; we can’t hit our revenue targets,” said Mihriban Aksu, a 31-year-old clothing-store clerk and longtime AKP supporter in Istanbul. “I’m not happy with how the economy is run.”
The upshot ahead of June 7 parliamentary elections is that many voters are for the first time in a decade questioning the AKP’s claim to economic leadership. At stake is Mr. Erdogan’s ability to realize a long-held goal: transforming the ceremonial presidency into an executive office, armed with powers currently held by the prime minister, the job he had from 2003 until August.
To do that, the AKP must build on its comfortable popular lead and expand its parliamentary majority—a difficult task, as opposition parties rally voters against what they say is Mr. Erdogan’s autocratic turn and mismanagement. The president has dismissed the criticism as an effort to derail Turkey’s progress.