The anger felt in Turkey towards sharply hiked electricity prices amid the country’s economic turmoil has reached the point that some store owners have started posting their power bills in their shop windows as a form of protest.
As the week got under way, businesses in Turkey stepped up their demands that the government move to cut electricity tariffs subject to a latest round of steep increases since the start of the year. An aide of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised measures would shortly ease the burden of high power utility bills hurting both companies and households. Firms seem determined to press hard to ensure the action is meaningful.
The difficulty for Turkey is that it is embroiled in an economic crisis in which the value of the Turkish lira has collapsed and official annual inflation has reached 49% (with unofficial estimates claiming it is as much as 115%), while at the same time, the country, which is dependent on energy imports, can only stand back and watch as world gas prices soar to record levels.
“Our demand is a reduction in electricity prices and for the government to protect companies, particularly small companies,” said Rifat Hisarciklioglu, head of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges, TOBB.
The business association represents small and medium sized companies, which constitute one of the main support bases for Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
In January, Turkey’s electricity prices were raised by around 52% for households that consume less than 150kWh of electricity per month and by 127% for those that consume more than 150kWh per month.
Some business owners have been protesting on Twitter. “I am paying TRY 4,000 a month for rent but my electricity bill is TRY23,000,” one restaurant owner in the western province of Manisa tweeted.
A large sign hung in front of a pizzeria in the southern province of Antalya read: “This restaurant was billed TRY28,000.” Another restaurant owner in the vicinity said that he paid TRY 21,000 for electricity in December and nearly TRY49,000 in January, while the electricity bill faced by a café that featured in local press jumped to TRY27,000 from TRY5,900 in a month. “We are going out of business,” read a notice on the café’s window.
Members of Turkey's Alevi religious minority responded to the electricity price hikes by declaring that they would refuse to pay power bills for the cemevis where they worship. "Come and cut off our electricity. Our cemevis are not business premises, they are our places of worship," Alevi federation head Celal Firat said on Twitter, where he posted a TRY30,000 power bill owed by his Alevi association.
Mayors from 11 cities, including Istanbul's Ekrem Imamoglu, joined in the call for government action to ease the "unbearable" burden of energy price increases. "The significant cost rises are now making it difficult for local administrations to provide services," the mayors said in a joint statement.
Ibrahim Kalin, the Erdogan aide who pledged some steps to help, said assistance would be delivered soon. “The president has instructed officials and is keeping a close eye on this matter,” Kalin told a private broadcaster. However he did not specify what kind or level of action would be taken, or when.
Earlier this week, a survey conducted by Ipso found 55% of Turks were struggling to pay their electricity bill. Around 46% of the survey respondents also said it was difficult for them to meet natural gas expenses while 48% and 40% complained about clothing prices and food costs, respectively.
According to 86% of respondents, Turkey’s main problem was the economy while only 6% thought that it was the COVID-19 pandemic.