October 03
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A series of diplomatic victories topped off by an agreement to resume grain exports from Ukraine gives President Tayyip Erdogan some respite from economic disagreements in Turkey and offers a blueprint for his election strategy in next year's elections. Preparing for what will be the biggest electoral test of his nearly 20-year rule, the president is highlighting his achievements on the world stage, Reuters writes.

 "Turkey is going through its strongest period politically, militarily and diplomatically," he told a crowd of thousands in northwestern Turkey at the weekend, a day after talks in Russia with President Vladimir Putin.

Progress on the international stage contrasts with the bleak economic picture at home, where inflation has soared to 79 percent and the lira exchange rate has fallen to near a record low reached during the last currency crisis in December.

Opponents blame Erdogan's unorthodox economic policies, including a series of interest rate cuts despite high inflation and the firing of three central bank governors from 2019, which have left the country with large current account deficits and dependence on external financing to support the economy.

Erdogan said the fruits of the government's economic policies, prioritizing exports, production and investment, will become more evident in the first quarter of 2023.

Meanwhile, government officials and senior members of his ruling AK party portray the president as a statesman confronting electoral rivals who are nowhere near his international credentials.

"Whether you like him or not, Erdogan is a leader," a senior Turkish official said, arguing that no other international figure had the same level of contact with top global players. "There is no leader in Turkey who can replace him."

An agreement to resume exports from Ukraine could ease the grain shortage that has left millions vulnerable to starvation and driven up world prices. Mediated by the United Nations and Turkey, this came after Erdogan secured concessions from NATO to join Northern European countries and initiated a rapprochement with rival powers in the Middle East.

In June, Erdogan also received a pledge from US President Joe Biden to support the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey after Washington banned Ankara from buying more advanced F-35 fighter jets because of its purchase of Russian weapons.

Erdogan, the country's longest and most influential political figure since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey nearly a century ago, faces parliamentary and presidential elections due by June 2023.

A Metropoll poll last week showed a slight increase in support for his AKP to 33.8 percent, still the highest of any single party. But he faces an unstable alliance of opposition parties, and polls show him lagging behind opposition presidential candidates.

Voters are most concerned about the state of the economy and the presence of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees that Turkey welcomed at the start of the Syrian conflict, but who are increasingly seen by Turks as competitors for jobs and services.

"The government is using foreign policy as material to cover up the economic disaster it has dragged the country into, telling tales of 'diplomatic victory' at home," said Erdogan Toprak, an MP from the main opposition People's Republican Party and an adviser to its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Toprak said that even on the diplomatic front, Erdogan made concessions that "damage the dignity of our country and drag it into weakness."

Erdogan, who survived widespread anti-government protests in 2013 and an attempted coup in 2016, has sought to repair strained relations with other Middle Eastern powers, in part in the hope of attracting much-needed foreign funds.

The United Arab Emirates, Turkey's rival in the Libyan civil war and the Gulf dispute over Qatar, has joined China, Qatar and South Korea in currency swap deals with Ankara totaling $28 billion. Turkey is also hoping for a deal with Saudi Arabia and has taken steps to improve relations with Egypt and Israel.

"Voters are aware of the benefits of diplomacy. At times they will complain about the economy or refugees, but they will vote for Erdogan for the continuation of an effective Turkey," an AK Party official said.

The key to Erdogan's diplomacy in the Middle East and beyond is what he called his "joint understanding, based on mutual trust and respect" with Putin, a relationship of growing concern among Turkey's NATO partners.

Turkey has sought to strike a balance, criticizing the Russian invasion and supplying Ukraine with weapons, while refusing to join the West in imposing sanctions on Russia. This stance, she said, has helped her mediation efforts reap rewards.

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