Despite economic boom, Erdogan targeted by protests

Turkey's business image tarnished?

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Story highlights

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept to power determined to prove he could transform Turkey's economy
  • His track record is good: Inflation reigned in and foreign investment flowing in
  • But the mayor of Istanbul does not seem content with his first decade in power
  • And protestors are taking to the street in their thousands

Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept into power a decade ago determined to prove to the world that his moderate Islamist party could transform Turkey's economy.

His track record stands on its own. Double digit inflation has been reigned in. Turkey remains a magnet for foreign direct investment -- over $100 billion since 2003 -- and it is an export machine. Exports hit $152 billion last year, a ten-fold increase in the last ten years.

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Turkey was very proud of a series of credit rating upgrades this year, the latest by Moody's on May 16 to investment grade.

"[In] the past decade the success has been partially about a single party government," said Tim Ash, head of emerging markets for Standard Bank. "But Erdogan has been a key part of that success. He has vision, drive and his supporters united around him and push for the agenda he is building."

The AK Party machine has lined up behind their man, but Ash and others say that these protests illustrate that clearly something is missing. One protestor after another articulated that their prime minister is not acting in their best interests.

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What's driving unrest and protests in Turkey?

Erdogan has never shied away from power. He challenged and took power away from Turkey's military leadership, the guardians of the secular state. He comfortably won three elections, the latest two years ago.

But the former semi-professional footballer and mayor of Istanbul, analysts say, does not seem content with his first decade in power. 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey under the founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

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Erdogan said he wants Turkey to join the ranks of the top ten economies by that anniversary. It is number 17 according to the International Monetary Fund after seeing a three-fold increase since 2003 to three quarters of a trillion dollars in total GDP.

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Per capita income has soared during his time as prime minister and the government says a million jobs are being created each year.

So why have protestors taken to the streets in the thousands? It seems to be the prime minister's grand plans that are being pursued ahead of the 2023 anniversary. Major infrastructure projects include a multi-billion dollar new airport for Istanbul, new bridges to cross the Bosphorus and even a 40 kilometre canal to unclog tanker traffic on the famous strait, which straddles Europe and Asia.

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At the same time, the prime minister has been trying to build support to make changes to the constitution and shift power to the president -- with personal designs on taking that position.

The current president Abdullah Gul said during the height of the protests Monday that: "I want it to be known that the messages sent in good faith have been received."

That was seen as a conciliatory response to what has been days of protests. To date, the prime minister has not adopted the same tone.