Obsessed with Political Stability

The turbulent 1970s inflicted a lot of pain and suffering on Turkish society. Sharpening class struggle, internal strife and terrorism along with frequently formed coalition governments in the context of economic bottlenecks that were associated with import-substituting industrialization prompted the coup d’état of 1980. The military junta formed by the leaders of the coup curtailed civil rights, repressed wages, persecuted the left and eventually drafted a constitution and made changes in the electoral system. The most important change in the elections were the introduction of 10% nation-wide threshold for the participating parties. The rationale for this was that the previous system allowed too many political parties to enter the parliament, resulting in coalitions that were allegedly a source of instability and ineffectiveness.

One of the arguments put forth by the ruling AKP (the Justice and Development Party) in its election campaigns and in their overall discourse has been to maintain “stability” in the country. For this reason the AKP was never interested in lowering the threshold of 10 percent national vote that eliminates small parties from the parliament. For the same reason, the AKP recently managed to change the regime from a parliamentary one to a presidential one, causing a lot of heated debate, controversy and unrest. The regime change is a relatively new development, and we have yet to see if and to what extent it has contributed to stability, but the election practices have been around for the last few decades, sometimes causing a significant portion of the electorate not being represented in the parliament.

Therefore, a look at the numbers will be useful to assess the argument for “stability.” Granted that this is not an in-depth analysis of Turkish politics, even a cursory examination of it can reveal a lot and give us some insight.

Since the proclamation of the Republic in 1923, 57 governments were formed until 2002 when the AKP won the elections and came to power. Being able to draw a significant amount of support from its voters, the AKP has managed to win consecutive elections, and at the moment it is the ruling party. Since 2002, the AKP, having won several local and parliamentary elections, and including some government shuffling along the way, has formed 8 governments.


Year per Cabinet: The AKP and Others










In other words,  this means 57 governments in the 79 years between 1923 and 2002, and 8 governments between 2002 and 2017. Put differently, a new government was formed every 1.39 years during the former period, and a new one every 1.88 years during the latter period.

Year per Cabinet: Multi-party Period










If we exclude the single-party period (1923-46), Turkey has had 43 governments in the following 56 years (1946-2002), which translates into an average duration of 1.39 years for all governments, 1.30 years for non-AKP governments, 1.88 years for the AKP.

This crude calculation shows that the AKP governments have been able to stay in power somewhat longer than all the previous governments, regardless of all other factors. However, the difference does not seem to be all that impressive, considering that a life of 1.88 years per government still falls short of the prescribed period of four years between elections. Also, considering the increasing terrorism and tension regarding the Kurdish issue, not to mention the economic dire straits that the country is facing at the moment, the question is whether the AKP can be regarded as any more successful in tackling the problems it faces, or its performance and stay in power as an achievement of stability.


The Economic State of Affairs in Turkey: Growth and Inequality

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has maintained its popular support since coming to power in 2002. The government and the circles associated with it claim that the AKP governments have performed much better than previous governments, pointing out enrichment of masses, its mega projects and never-seen-before privatization schemes that it undertook rather zealously. Arguing for an unprecedented economic success in the history of the Republic, they proudly point out the unwavering electoral support they have been receiving in most local and national elections. In the framework of authoritarian, increasingly repressive and blatantly extra-legal practices of the government, one consequently feels it necessary to go beyond aggregate statistics and see if their high-fluted discourse is justifiable.

When comparing economies or speaking of change in the size of an economy it is conventional to refer to aggregate measures such as Gross National Product (GNP) or Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, we know that these are simply average figures that conceal a lot more than they reveal. For a crude comparison among economies, or to get a rough idea about how a particular country is doing in the world economy, these figures have some practical utility but beyond that they are almost useless. Even in per capita terms such statistics are not very informative. Therefore, alternative measures have been created to overcome the limitations of the conventional measures of economic growth. The Purchasing Power Parity, for instance, is one of them. Additionally, measures of poverty and inequality have been created in recent decades to understand social and economic phenomena better. Moreover, the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations is an attempt to measure the level of development, a composite measure that consists of a number of basic indicators, reflecting development, rather than simply growth.


Using the conventional measures of economic growth, it can be seen that Turkey’s Gross Domestic Product, according to the World Bank, rose from 13,995,067,817.5092 in 1961 to 718,221,078,308.824 current US dollars in 2015. The increase is an impressive 5032 percent. The same figure for 1961-2001 was 1301 %, for 2002-2015 208.86 percent. GDP per capita, on the other hand, rose from $508 in 1960 to $9130 in 2015.


Between 1961 and 2015 the annual rate of increase in per capita GDP, including all the ups and downs in the 54-year period, was 2.53 percent on average, which can only be considered a modest rate of growth. The per capita rate of increase in GDP in the 2002-2015 period turned out to be 3.33 percent on average, which is somewhat higher than the average for the pre-AKP period but is not all that impressive. What makes the GDP growth rate during the AKP period “shine” is perhaps the meager growth of 1.777 percent in the immediately preceding 10-year period during which an economic crisis wreaked havoc in Turkish economy.

However, as indicated above, the aggregate measures are never adequate; they conceal crucial facts such as income differentials or poverty rates. Therefore, we will have to look at the picture from the perspective of social justice and equity, criteria that should be of prime concern for the party in government.

The Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality, was 39.3 in 2013 (OECD), indicating a high degree of income inequality. In fact, Turkey has one of the highest levels of inequality in the OECD area. Similarly, the poverty ratio was 17.2 % for the same year. Income shared by the top 10 % of the population between 2002-2013 was on average 30.54 % with minor fluctuations over the period. On the other hand, the income share of the lowest 20 % in the same period was on average 5.67 percent. As one can realize, these indicators manifest a high degree of inequality and poverty, that is not captured by the aggregate measures of economic growth. An unemployment of 10.7 % in July 2016 as announced by the Statistics Office of Turkey testifies to the mere fact that poverty and inequality are not negligible. In the 15-24 year age group unemployment is 19.8 %, indicating that a major portion of the jobless is among the youth, which happens to be one of the largest demographic groups in the country (median age being 30, half of the population is 30 years old and younger).

Considering the regional disparities in incomes and development, and the fact that 66.5 % of the population having non-mortgage debt, the policies of the AKP government can hardly be considered a success. Chronically low rates of savings, inadequate flow of foreign investment (unfortunately seen as panacea for low rates of savings in liberal economics), and moreover, the flight of capital due to recent political instability, terrorism and wars, not to mention the exceptional ineptitude of the policy-makers, the economy is on the brink of collapse, despite feeble efforts of government officials to calm public anxiety. It has to be pointed out that the economic growth the government is so proud to emphasize has been due to services and the construction sector, not to industrial production. The manufacturing sector was able to maintain itself through borrowing excessively and producing mostly for the domestic market. Even exports are based on importation of goods to a large extent, indicating serious structural problems with the economy. With a long-term debt in excess of $200 billion, the private sector is in dire straits. With a dwindling economy, the government is hard-pressed to increase its tax revenue not only for regular expenditures but also for financing the military operations in the east of the country and in Syria. With the national currency rapidly eroding against the US dollar and the panic on the part of the government pathetically calling for “de-dollarization” of the economy, the picture is quite bleak and the collapse seems imminent (ironically, most of the savings in foreign currency are located in provinces that have overwhelmingly voted for the conservative/nationalistic AKP, recently calling for reversion to the “national” currency and gold).


According to the UNDP, Turkey’s Human Development Index increased by 1.26 % in the 1990-2000 period. During the ensuing 10-year period, which corresponds to AKP rule, the figure was 1.23. That simply indicates that the AKP-period’s economic growth did not translate into any more development than the previous period. In fact, it was slightly lower. During the 2010-14 period Turkey registered an HDI growth rate of 0.79, resulting in an average growth of HDI of 1.17 percent for the 1990-2014 period. According to the 2014 figures, Turkey is in 72nd place in the community of nations. This clearly is not concomitant with its economic size, which the bureaucrats and politicians are often proud to point out for being among the top 20 economies in the world. Compared to countries with even a lower per capita income, such as Serbia, Cuba and Costa Rica, just to name a few, Turkey’s overall development is incompatible with its income level or with the size of its economy.

The conclusion we can draw from all this is that economic growth in Turkey has not resulted in the kind of economic development one would expect. The governments in recent history have not been successful in creating the necessary conditions for a structural transformation of the economy, and the AKP governments of recent years have not been any more successful than the preceding ones.


Last year, exactly on this date, I posted an article about women on this site ( https://lassietecolinas.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/on-women-on-a-womens-day/ ). Today I have decided to look at things from a somewhat light-hearted point of view. Even though women’s plight in the world has not changed since last year, and that it may even be worse, I do not feel like dramatizing things, so let’s keep on reading..

As it would be expected in any developing economy, the number of motor vehicles in Turkey has been steadily increasing. The Statistical Institute of Turkey reports that the numbers went up from 8,521,956 in 2001 to 19,994,472 in 2015. This is not only due to the expansion of the economy, but also because of the increase in the population, which, according to the World Bank, grew from about 64 million in 2001 to almost 76 million in 2014. The number of divorces also increased, parallel to the population increase during this period. In the face of such sharp increase in numbers, and out of curiosity, one might very well be interested in looking into this. The following plot displays what is explained above. The correlation coefficient r = 0.9359 as calculated by R, is highly impressive. However, let’s face it, despite the rationale one might think of regarding the increase in individual variables and their covariation, this is one of those cases of spuriousness.

Motor vehicles and Divorces in Turkey (2001-2015)
Motor vehicles and Divorces in Turkey (2001-2015)

It should be obvious to anyone with a minimal understanding of socioeconomic phenomena and statistics, that it just does not make any sense to think of divorces somehow being linked to the number of motor vehicles. One cannot possibly cause the other, so we will have to think of confounding factors (variables in technical lingo) such as development of economy, emancipation of women, economic crises causing unresolvable disputes between spouses, etc. that actually play a role in the background, affecting our variables of interest. As this exercise illustrates, one can find a relationship and calculate a correlation coefficient between almost any two variables (factors or phenomena in ordinary language) in life. However, the question is whether or not that seeming relationship will be meaningful.

Briefly, the moral of the story for the newly initiated is that looks can be deceptive, we would be well advised to delve into the matter and look for hidden factors.

Crisis with Russia

The downing of a Russian fighter-bomber on Nov 24 along the Turkish-Syrian border is considered by many observers as an act of war. The Russian administration, claiming that their SU-24 never violated Turkish air space, called the incident “a stab in the back.” While the USA, France and NATO seem to back Turkish claims that Turkey has the right to defend its territorial rights, Russia has immediately proceeded to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, ranging from a ban on Turkish imports to visa restrictions.

Kremlin’s tough and unwavering stance will certainly have an impact on Turkish economy. For example, in 2014 the number of Russian tourists that came to Turkey reached 4.5 million. This amounts to almost 4 billion dollars in revenue, comprising a major portion of Turkey’s earnings from foreign visitors. Leaving aside Turkey’s dependence on Russia for its natural gas, another critical issue that needs to be resolved, its exports are likely to plummet if the Russians stick to their words. In 2013, Turkey’s exports to Russia were in excess of $7 billion, making it one of its major export partners.

Turkey’s Exports to Russia (2013)

On the other hand, Turkey imports from Russia mostly petroleum products, raw aluminium, scrap metal, various chemicals and wheat. The value of total imports from Russia exceed $14 billion, more than 30% of which being refined petroleum.

Turkey’s Imports from Russia (2013)

It is clear that in the short-term both Turkey and Russia are likely to lose from the current stand-off. It needs to be emphasized, however, the reckless foreign policy of Turkey does not serve Turkey’s long-term interests; neither does it serve peace in the region.

Data source: AJG Simoes, CA Hidalgo. The Economic Complexity Observatory: An Analytical Tool for Understanding the Dynamics of Economic Development. Workshops at the Twenty-Fifth AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence. (2011)


November 2015

This year in November the weather in Istanbul has been quite warm – unusually so. Whether it is due to the hotly debated climate change/global warming or it is simply because we are having a warmer November is beyond my pale. The political climate is certainly reaching the boiling point but that is not what I intend to show here, although I am very much tempted to do so. The United Nations Climate Change Conference started in  Paris, and some of the leaders have already made striking statements, indicating the imminence of taking serious measures such as the use of sustainable technology, energy efficiency and innovation. We will have to wait and see, however, if the participants can reach a binding and universal agreement on climate.

In a previous post, “Climatic Anomalies“, I had shown the increasing global temperatures. Given the anomalies that are reported and the Conference being held, I researched the average temperatures in Istanbul. According to the State Meteorological Office mean temperature in November between 1950 and 2014 was 7 degrees Celsius, mean maximum temperature 12.8 degrees and mean low 2.4 degrees Celsius.

Maximum, mean and minimum temperatures in Istanbul (November 2015)
Maximum, mean and minimum temperatures in Istanbul (November 2015)

This year, however, mean temperature has been 14.17 degrees Celsius, mean maximum temperature 17.13 and mean low temperature 11.27 degrees Celsius. The chart below shows the course of temperatures throughout the month of November.

Temperature fluctuations - November 2015
Temperature fluctuations – November 2015

Given that in many countries total carbon dioxide emissions and per capita emissions have increased in the last couple of decades, and in the face of empirical data, we seem to have good reasons to worry about global warming and its devastating consequences, as already stated by some of the conference participants.


What It Takes To Be an Outstanding Leader: Kemal Atatürk

Books on leadership abound in political science literature. However, I am not going to delve into those murky waters; instead, on this day of the 77th anniversary of his death, I will briefly explain, in appreciation for what he carved out of a devastated empire, why Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a truly remarkable leader and a statesman that has been revered by many politicians and statesmen in the world.

First of all, Mustafa Kemal was not  simply a well-trained officer, a successful commander or a politician, he was truly a man of vision, a man who could not only dissect the problems of  his age as skillfully as a master surgeon, but could also see far beyond his times and pinpoint the kinds of social and political problems his country could possibly face under certain conditions. In his case this was not only a matter of having some inborn talent, but something he quite obviously nurtured over his tumultuous and short life. His interest in social, political and scientific realms had almost no limits, making him an avid reader who kept reading, taking notes and pondering about world politics, about the ills of the decaying Ottoman Empire, and about the possibilities that the future might have in store for the Turkish nation he was trying to forge. How can one have vision unless one’s powers of imagination are nurtured with intellectual pursuits?

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Secondly, Mustafa Kemal was a man of calculation. He was no mere adventurer or fanatic that led his people to catastrophic ends. Unlike some others, he set realistic goals in his effort to serve his people, and thanks to his decisiveness and superior organizational skills, he succeeded in attaining them. This certainly requires rational thinking, a firm grasp of  world politics and also a solid understanding of history, all of which he did possess.

Last, but not least, he always knew at what point to stop. He knew what could be possible under the circumstances. He was not a daydreamer, a romantic adventurer or a utopian that acted on ill-considered ideas. Rational thought and calculation, in other words, science was his true guide as he came to express this to his nation in 1924.

Today many half-baked intellectuals look down upon Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, call him a benign dictator (inspired by their Anglo-American masters), and some even go as far as blatantly denigrating him, not realizing that had it not been for his anti-imperialist stance and politics bringing about the formation of a modern republic, they would have become mere colonial subjects within the imperial schemes of the age. However, this kind of attitude that feeds upon sheer ignorance only goes to indicate how great a mind he was that the nation he skillfully crafted under highly adverse conditions has had many achievements in 92 years.

In short, what needs to be done to indicate our gratitude for Atatürk’s heroic efforts for his land and people is to avoid cliches in commemorating him, and to emphasize his greatest professional, personality and moral characteristics without falling into banality.

Tough Road Ahead

Despite the increasing liberalization of its economy since the 1980s, presented as a reform by the ideologues of neoliberalism and by market fetishists alike, Turkish economy still suffers from serious structural problems, which continue to render the economy highly fragile.

As often stated, the manufacturing sector mostly produces commonplace (one might argue mediocre)  goods that have low value-added, not generating the wealth that would be expected in a thriving liberal economy. One of the problems that seems to continue over the last few decades is the stagnating level of value-added in the manufacturing sector in general. Another difficulty has been the low levels of savings that are well below the world average. Without adequate savings, economic growth will be difficult to achieve unless the gap is closed with foreign investment or borrowing. Interestingly, investment rates have also been lower than the world average, and the country has been unable to attract high levels of foreign investment (whether this is a good thing or not is beyond this purpose of this article) despite a lot of lip service.

A notable weakness in the economy is the fact that the exports have been dependent on the imports of capital and intermediary goods as well as raw materials.  In spite of a continual increase in exports and the emphasis placed by recent governments on bringing them to “record” levels, the manufacturing sector has not reached the technological efficiency or sophistication that would make the country more competitive.

Data: The World Bank
Data: The World Bank

The exports as a share of GDP were higher than the imports as a share of GDP only in 1988, 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002 in the 55-year period ranging from 1960 to 2014. In relation with this, the high level of current account deficit continues to be a problem, even though the official rhetoric tends to disregard it.

Clearly, without a structural transformation, the Turkish economy will gradually lose ground, and the country eventually end up in the lower middle income bracket. Unless critical sectors are specified and strategically supported through a mixture of incentives, Turkey cannot avoid becoming peripheralized. As history shows, an underdeveloped economy without direction based on planning and a necessary level of protectionism cannot generate development.

The governing Justice and Development Party that has been in power since 2002 emerged with a clear victory in the elections of November 1, 2015 and faces a real challenge to overcome in the economic sphere.

On Women Again: Femicide in Latin America and Turkey

It’s been reported that Latin America has been shaken with the brutal murder of a 14-year-old girl who had become pregnant from her boyfriend. The outrage caused by increasing murder of women and the violence committed against them as such have sparked a new wave of protests against the prevalent culture of violence across a number of countries.
According to La Nacion, in 2008 in Argentina a woman was murdered every 40 hours, which increased to one woman per 30 hours by 2014. The media reported 1808 such murders for the said period, and these are certainly alarming figures
( http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1798662-en-defensa-de-la-mujer-un-clamor-recorrio-el-pais-niunamenos ).
Upon reading the gruesome news, I wanted to point out once again (you may want to check out my previous post on the issue) the conditions in Turkey, which is becoming more like Latin America in terms of violence against women. It seems to be the case on the basis of available figures, that between 2002-2009 femicide in Turkey increased by 1400 %. While only 66 women were murdered in 2002, during the first 10 months of 2011 this was up to 935 (see:  http://www2.tbmm.gov.tr/d24/7/7-3307s.pdf ).

It is clear that murdering of women many times results in family tragedies and increases in existing inequalities in social life.  Women’s role in social and economic development is now well-documented, and therefore, more serious policy re-orientation is needed in these countries in order to secure the lives of citizens, and more particularly of women.  Sadly, it looks like the legal measures taken against this problem are not effectively implemented in either Latin America or in Turkey. Paying lip service to women’s rights or gender equality does not give us too much mileage; it is time that governments took this more seriously and acted steadfastly.

On Women on a Women’s Day

In the face of increasing brutal physical and sexual violence against women in Turkey, there may not be much to celebrate for women on Women’s Day. If anything, today should be considered an occasion for figuring out paths to a better world. The recent acts of brutality that occurred in recent months in this country have been a real shock to anyone who is halfway sensible.

Interestingly, and deplorably, much of the violence women experience comes from spouses or from former spouses. Although it would be too simplistic to point out one thing or another as the root of this evil, one might conjecture education as an important factor. As a matter of fact, education does seem to play a role in violence against women, but even highly educated people also seem to be involved in violent acts. According to the Statistical Institute of Turkey, the prevalence of physical violence by education level of women decreases from 52.2 % to 25 % as we move from a category of no education to high school or more. It is obvious from these figures that being educated does not make one abstain from being violent.

Aside from lack of education, some of the general characteristics of men in Turkey, such as authoritarian, macho and militaristic personality traits, are probably quite influential in determining their behaviour toward the other sex. Authoritarian patterns of behaviour are present in many families, and are instilled in children at a very early age. The traditional patrimonial family structure does not leave much room for a healthy development of personalities. Girls are especially under more pressure than boys, and are often subjected to incestuous relations that they are usually ashamed to reveal. The same nauseating militaristic and authoritarian, and condescending attitudes are also imposed in the school system, which probably reinforces the familial patterns of behaviour. Last, but not least, it should be mentioned that the archaic islamic world view does not place any particular emphasis on women’s rights as we understand them in today’s world. On the contrary, women are simply expected to obey their fathers or husbands, who usually display a patronizing and “know-thy-place” type of attitude, which frequently results in battering, beating, torturing and even execution in the name of saving the family’s honour. Arguments to the contrary are nothing more than an apology to continue the repressive and exploitative attitude toward women. Historical and theological evidence is legion in this respect.

Sadly, many women are raised and socialized within this kind of a social milieu, and are therefore accepting of the repressive structures of their daily existence. It is, unfortunately, the boys they raise that end up perpetuating the same mechanisms of repression that they have witnessed at home all along.

The real good news and a source of hope in this bleak picture is, however, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers violence against women a “global public health problem.” This is quite a promising stance because otherwise a problem of such a high magnitude would perhaps be overlooked for many years to come. Considering that about 35 % of all women in the world experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, a global policy orientation is certainly grounds for more effective action toward a brighter future.

Violence against Women (2010)
Violence against Women (2010)

The WHO reports that “38 percent of all murders of women globally were reported as being committed by their intimate partners.” Furthermore, women who had intimate partner violence are “twice as likely to experience depression, 16 % more likely to have a a low birth-weight baby, more likely to acquire HIV and 1.5 times more likely to contract syphilis infection, chlamydia or gonorrhoea”(http://who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/violence/VAW_infographic.pdf?ua=1 ).

Serious levels of gender inequality continue to exist not only in Turkey, or in the less developed countries in general, but in many parts of the world. According to the WHO, everyday in 2013 800 women lost their lives due to pregnancy and child birth, both of which are preventable complications. The Organization also indicates that women in underdeveloped countries are 23 times more at risk of dying from maternal causes compared to those in developed countries. Likewise, life expectancy of women in less developed countries is lower than those in developed ones.

One important facet of gender inequality that cannot be overlooked is the differential wages men and women receive. According to the OECD, the median wage of women in Canada is 19 % of men’s, 15.4 % in Mexico, 26.6 % in Japan, 15.5 % in the Czech Republic and 11.8 % in Turkey while the OECD average is 9.3 % ( http://data.oecd.org/ ). Clearly, world capitalism thrives on discrimination of women as well as other subaltern categories.

Without a concerted effort at creating a different world at the global level, these mechanisms of oppression and exploitation will continue. The world has certainly come a long way in the last 50 years or so. As Professor Hans Rosling is taking pains to demonstrate, life expectancy and income levels have been increasing, and infant mortality rates decreasing. There are more people with access to sanitary living conditions, and so forth.  However, as some of the figures above indicate, the inequalities that exist are still far from acceptable levels.

Among the inequalities that exist, gender inequality requires special attention. It should be more than obvious that without any determined and focused policy that addresses women’s issues directly, their plight cannot be alleviated. Even then, the dynamics of world capitalism, as its history manifests, may not permit equality simply because it has to find ways to guarantee ceaseless accumulation of capital. As Professor Immanuel Wallerstein argues, the states in the world are faced with multiple challenges that threaten their legitimacy. Under such conditions women, children and minorities are relatively easy groups to handle vis-à-vis corporate power that needs the state. “Creating enemies” can be another effort to maintain legitimacy and also to bolster corporate capital in need of a “spacio-temporal fix” à la Harvey.

Then the problem arises as to how an effective struggle can be formed and maintained to overcome gross inequalities. This eventually brings us to Samir Amin’s point that without abandoning identity politics that necessarily veils real class interests and causes fragmentation, and without re-gaining the consciousness for class struggle, things are not likely to get any better.