Turkish candidates vie for support of middle-class voters
Days ahead of the crucial May 14 general elections in Türkiye, contenders have made pledges to fight poverty in a country where middle-class workers have taken a big hit amid economic decline.
Seeking re-election for a third term, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, has focused his campaign on economic promises.
In a massive rally on Sunday, Erdogan attracted a sea of supporters in Istanbul, the country's largest city, where he used to work as a mayor in the 1990s.
"We'll bring inflation down to single digits and save our country from this problem," he said during the rally.
Following years of economic prosperity and fast growth under Erdogan's rule, Türkiye's economy has faltered, especially since a currency crisis in 2018.
The most recent official statistics published on May 3 show inflation stood at 43.7 percent in April, still high but has significantly declined since it peaked at 85.5 percent in October last year.
The Turkish lira fell to an all-time low against the US dollar in mid-April, at 19.58, and is not likely to stabilize any time soon, with economists predicting further decline following the double elections.
The financial hardships Turks experience could be a determining factor in their choice of a president and parliamentary members.
Currently, around 40 percent of the workforce receives the government-mandated minimum wage which amounts to 8,500 liras (about $435) monthly, according to data released in December by the Labor and Social Security Ministry.
"I don't even remember the last time I went to the movies. We have to remain at home to cut expenses," Burcin Dedeoglu, 46, a foreign trade specialist, told Xinhua in capital Ankara's popular Swan Lake Park adorned with political posters and ads.
In a study published on Wednesday by the Turkish Social Democracy Foundation, a non-governmental organization, the Turkish middle-class has seen its income "significantly reduced" in the past decade.
The economic troubles have dented Erdogan's popularity but he still has strong support in the conservative and religious Anatolian heartland.
He is likely to face a tight electoral race against the leader of the joint-opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, backed by a bloc of parties with disparate political views.
Kilicdaroglu has pledged to increase significantly the wages of some 5 million civil servants, accusing the government of pursuing policies that have brought about the "collapse of the middle class."
"The middle class has been devastated, I will restore its strength with increased income and tax reforms," he promised in a video posted on social media on April 30.
(Cover: Justice and Development Party (AKP) flags in Eminonu on May 8, 2023 in Istanbul, Türkiye. /CFP)