Having come back from a roadshow entailing four European countries where the referendum itself plus post-referendum dynamics were discussed with the investor community, we have to say that the community’s assessment of Turkey is presumably the best it has ever been.
Anyway, after these footnotes, on to the column:
Not only the AKP has confirmed its legitimacy, it seems set to emerge from the upcoming general elections victorious. Even after using most generous estimates from defects from the other parties to the “yes” camp (and most conservative ones for the AKP defectors), the AKP would most likely get over 40 percent of the votes if elections were held today, securing majority in the Parliament.
This last sentence is a sigh of relief for foreign investors. As far as most of them are concerned, the question of political stability has been resolved to their satisfaction, not only in the short-run, but also for the next few years. But it is an illusion!
First of all, the CHP is likely to fight the constitutional reform package tooth and nail. It is unlikely that the AKP will adopt a reconciliatory approach, either. Although the press concentrated on the few reconciliatory remarks in his victory speech, by labeling the 16 million naye-sayers as coup supporters, PM Erdoğan seems to be getting ready to dig up the tomahawk.
The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, and the PKK, their literal brothers-in-arms, are the hidden winners of the referendum: Their call for a boycott was a success, with more than half of Kurds staying away from the ballots. As a result, they are likely to ask for concessions from the government and resort to acts of civil disobedience or even terrorism if their demands are not satisfied.
Finally, the regional polarization that has emerged from the referendum is not helpful, either, although I do hint in the editorial in today’s South Weekly that some of those results are being misinterpreted.
The economics landscape is likely to be equally illusionary. Turkey economists have been dazzled by last week’s double-digit growth figure for the second quarter. Never mind the fact that the 10.3 percent year-on-year increase follows last year’s 7.7 percent contraction, and is therefore partly reflecting base effects. More recent leading indicators hinting at a considerable slowdown in the pace of recovery are likely to be brushed under the carpet for now.
Similar illusions are emerging with respect to fiscal policy. The common logic is that given the strong referendum win, the government will not need too much pork-barreling. However, recently announced policies prove that the spending genie is nevertheless out of the lamp.
While Finance Minister Şimşek is keen to emphasize that the government will stick to the fiscal deficit target of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product, that figure was based on a much lower GDP estimate. If the economy were to grow 6.5 to 7 percent this year, the government would have an extra leeway of 15 billion liras for its spending binge.
In a similar manner, the IMF’s recent recommendations in its Staff Report for Article IV regarding fiscal, monetary and financial sector policies, as well as warnings of loss of external competitiveness, are likely to fall on deaf ears.
If anything, the latter concerns could trigger more pressure from the government on the Central Bank to lower rates to help the over-valued lira, as the government sees the exchange rate as the sole cause of Turkey’s diminishing competitiveness and the interest rate as the only remedy to correct it. I expect pressure to increase considerably once the base effect diminishes and an unfavorable parity compared to last year make exports look worse in the last quarter.
A major political event could be a wake-up call for investors, but they are happy to sleep on Turkey for now.
*Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.