The Economist magazine probably prefers to believe that it is above the indignity of squabbling and hot-headed trading of insults that constitute campaign trail politics, urging its rationalist-minded readers to make their electoral choices on the basis of GDP growth forecasts and technocratic rigour.
But the prestigious publication’s endorsement of an opposition party ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Turkey has drawn an angry response from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with the country’s finance minister even “unfollowing” the magazine on Twitter in retaliation.
In an editorial published last week, The Economist paid tribute to Erdogan’s stewardship of the country during almost a decade in power.
Turkey had become “an economic and political power, both in the region and the world”, the magazine said, while a “politically intrusive army” had been “returned to the barracks”. Most Turks were “understandably grateful” to the prime minister and his party, and appeared poised to return them for a third term of office, it conceded.
But the prospect of the AKP gaining a majority large enough to unilaterally rewrite the constitution was “worrying”, it said, adding that Erdogan’s increased influence, following the curbing of the powers of the military and the judiciary, had “freed him to indulge his natural intolerance of criticism and fed his autocratic instincts”.
The magazine urged Turks to cast their votes instead for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
“A stronger showing by Mr Kilicdaroglu’s party would both reduce the risks of unilateral changes that would make the constitution worse and give the opposition a fair chance of winning a future election. That would be by far the best guarantee of Turkey’s democracy.”
The article drew an angry response from senior AKP figures. In a succession of posts on Twitter, finance minister Mehmet Simsek said The Economist was “living in the past” and had “willfully made itself irrelevant and disrespected”:
Dear friends, after reading the shockingly prejudiced & blatantly politically motivated article about #Turkey & #AKParti on @TheEconomist...  l’ve decided to Unfollow #theEconomist, one of very few publications l’d been following on twitter & been an avid reader of for a long time
Erdogan also hit back in an interview given to TV channel TGRT and quoted by the Anatolia News Agency. “This international media, as they are supported by Israel, would not be happy with the continuation of the AKP government,” he said. “Of course, they have their hands on Turkey nowadays.”
And speaking to journalists in Ankara, Cemil Cicek, the deputy prime minister, said: “We take power from the people, not from foreign magazines.”
The article also drew criticism from readers to the Economist’s website, with Eyup Sabri Tuncer commenting:
Yes Sir Yes! We will definitely follow your order and vote for Gandhi [Kilicdaroglu]. You have always known the best option for any country for centuries. Hey, listen The Economist and Britons! Turkish people are not sheep and they conscious enough to decide what is good and bad for themselves.
But the article also prompted a more favourable reaction from those less enamoured with Erdogan’s leadership skills and the prospect of four more years of AKP government. Writing on the Hurriyet Daily News website, Fatma wrote:
Dear friends, after reading the shockingly objective & bilateral article about Turkey & AkParti on TheEconomist .... l’ve decided to follow theEconomist, one of very few publications unfortunatelly I havent been following on twitter & ll be an avid reader from now on!