How Erdogan is cosying up with Doha for funds to offer sops before local polls?

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani shake hands before their talks in Ankara, on August 15, 2018.

:: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s bid to shore up his country’s economy got a boost when Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamid Al Thani and his finance minister visited Turkey in August and offered a direct investment of $15 billion.

The economy had suffered following the rift with the US and the subsequent fall of the Turkish lira.

The emir also sent Erdoğan an ultra-luxurious Boeing 747-8 VIP jet worth over half $500 million as a gift kicking up a controversy in Turkey at a time when people were facing economic hardships.

Bilateral pacts

The flow of goodwill did not stop there. The two countries met again in in Istanbul on November 26 to hold the fourth meeting of the High Strategic Committee, signing many agreements presided over by Sheikh Tamim and his ministers.

Erdoğan in his speech thanked his guests for their support against at a crucial time when the country’s economy was facing “speculative attempts” from outside.

A day after the meeting with Qatar, Erdoğan announced in parliament the names of 20 new candidates for the local elections next March.

According to Zülfikar Doğan of Ahval News, “some other significant details from the president’s speech escaped notice.”

Doğan notes: “President Erdoğan said that in December, alongside his electoral manifesto, the government would announce a new “investment and employment mobilization” plan, which appears to be a set of incentives to voters similar to those offered before the referendum in 2017 and the elections last June.”

While talking up the prospects of economic recovery at home, Erdogan also said it was time to capitalize on foreign investors’ mounting interest in Turkey.

Erdoğan specifically mentioned Qatar’s funding. “The $15 billion in direct investment and funds pledged by Qatar should come into play before the local elections,” he said.

Electoral sops

This has sparked speculation that the Turkish President was trying to use the funding from Doha specifically as electoral sops to boost the prospects of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the coming local election.

There has been such a precedent in the earlier elections in 2015, when municipalities controlled by the AKP gave temporary employment to 150,000 laborers to plant trees and clean public spaces.

The pattern is being repeated in the coming elections, with Education Ministry has employing 50,000 temporary school janitors. More can be expected in the run-up to March.

The help from Qatar will come in handy to fund all of this.

After a meeting between the Qatari and Turkish trade ministers in September, The two sides are to disclose which sectors would receive the $15 billion Qatari direct investment very soon.

Some sources say that $5 billion of the amount from Doha will come in December, a convenient time when Erdoğan will announce his government’s initiatives for “investment and employment mobilization”.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is welcomed by Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha.

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