High Voltage: Electricity price battle in Turkish politics

President Erdoğan’s greets CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu with his hand on his chest as Kılıçdaroğlu responded with a simple nod. Parliament Speaker Şentop and Vice President Oktay (right in the background of Erdoğan) watching. The high voltage in politics continues over the electricity hike. (Photo: AA / Barış Onar)

Stars are falling once the glitter wears off. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) deputy chairman and former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırm was giving an exclusive interview to CNN Türk TV host Ahmet Hakan last night on February 16, inevitably answering questions concerning electricity price hikes which caused a nation-wide outcry. Turkey’s political arena is now under high voltage because of the electricity hikes, as Yıldırım pointed “the draught and hike in natural gas prices” as the reason behind it. But something curious happens while the host Hakan, being satisfied by the answer to electricity hikes, asks if “there is an early election?” answer of which is public knowledge. Then Yıldırım’s phone rings. The “autonomous” Energy Market Regulatory Board’s (EPDK) Chairman Mustafa Yılmaz was on the line, and he gave “tips” to the top chair of the ruling party on a live broadcast. Hakan tried to make a joke out of the situation, saying, “this is a first in TV history.”

Another incident that we could feel the voltage in politics was the sworn-in ceremony for the new member of the Constitutional Court Kenan Yaşar, on February 16. The photograph above was taken at the ceremony, depicting President and AKP leader Tayyip Erdoğan greeting main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu by putting his hand on his chest. Kılıçdaroğlu simply nodded Erdoğan as a response, stirring debate. Some interpreted the greeting as a positive sign while some emphasized Kılıçdaroğlu’s minimized reaction. I think the latter interpretation fits better to describe the high tension in Turkish Politics.

Will Erdogan correct the electricity mistake?

Of course, it is not a coincidence that the high voltage is felt around electricity hikes; it is energy hikes in general, but especially electricity hikes cause a reaction in the society.
President Erdoğan admitted two things about the fact that the economy is going badly on his return from the trip to United Arab Emirates (UAE) on February 14 and 15. The first confession was that the VAT cuts failed to stop the rise in food prices.

The second was about the electricity hikes. It was this failure that charged the high voltage even further. After Kılıçdaroğlu said that he would not pay his electricity bill until the hikes were reinstated, Erdoğan fell into the trap and dismissed the complaints about the price increases as making a “fuss”. Erdogan had already admitted the mistake of the electricity hike by increasing the usage limit for the increase from 150 kilowatt-hours per month to 210. And it has been a discussion if it would be increased even further to 250. Maybe Erdoğan announced on February 16 that there would be no change in the limit just because Kılıçdaroğlu said it.

But things changed when a complaint about the increase came from the government’s alliance partner Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli at the beginning of the week, in addition to the AKP base.

Although the price hikes are not taken back completely as Kılıçdaroğlu wanted, at least there is an acknowledgement of the mistake.

High voltage may also electrocute the government

One day after Bahceli’s reaction, Erdogan said on his return to the UAE, “We will not let people suffer by price hikes.” The first answer came from opposition IYI Party leader Meral Akşener; “Did I do the raises?” she asked.

After the cabinet meeting, Erdogan said once more that a new arrangement would be made about the bills. On his return to the UAE, he confronted Kılıçdaroğlu again. He said if he is not going to pay his bills, his electricity will be cut off. He might think that would scare the main opposition leader away. This was after the ceremony at the Constitutional Court. A few hours before, Kılıçdaroğlu had accused Erdoğan of not withdrawing the raises to “defend the Gang of Five” at the parliamentary group meeting of the CHP. He responded immediately via social media. He wrote that the nation had been “failed” on electricity bills, and they would continue their struggle.

Erdogan has put himself in such a situation that every step he will take regarding electricity bills will look like as if Kılıçdaroğlu had made him take. Moreover, raising the lower limit in electricity consumption to around 250 will reduce the harm to families in the lower-income group. Still, nothing will change in terms of industry and trade. This includes the announcement of the Minister of Energy, Fatih Dönmez, that there will be a 25 percent reduction in the consumption of tradespeople. Electric high voltage will electrocute not only the citizen but also the government.

Asking for an account

If the 210-kilowatt limit could save the cash-strapped government, why the 150-limit was set first? If it will be sufficient to make it 250 (which the Chamber of Electrical Engineers (EMO) announced right after the price hikes that the minimum rate should be at least 230), then why wasn’t it increased directly from 150 to 250? Since Erdogan did not make these calculations himself, who is putting them before the President? Who causes Erdogan to make “fuss” statements that he later tries to correct? Will these wrongs be later accounted for?

We experience the same thing with fuel. The fuel, which is said to be rising because it depends on the dollar rate, is sold above the level of 18 Turkish Liras, although one dollar is now kept around 13.5 Turkish Liras these days. The same goes for natural gas bills. The food prices are already a disaster.

Another clever calculation was the plan of “reintroducing the gold under the pillow to the economy”- it must be a zillionth time since the Turgut Özal governments in the 1980s-.
“You shamelessly want women’s gold that they kept under the pillow,” Akşener snapped.
Until now, Erdogan had always been the winner from the high tension in politics. Do you think that will happen this time too?

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