When Financial Markets Misread Politics

CAMBRIDGE – When Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) defied pundits and pollsters by regaining a parliamentary majority in the country’s general election on November 1, financial markets cheered. The next day, the Istanbul stock exchange rose by more than 5%, and the Turkish lira rallied.

Never mind that one would be hard pressed to find anyone in business or financial circles these days with a nice thing to say about Recep Tayyip Erdoğan or the AKP that he led before ascending to the presidency in 2014. And make no mistake: Though Turkey’s president is supposed to be above party politics, Erdoğan remains very much at the helm.

Indeed, it was Erdoğan’s divide-and-rule strategy – fueling religious populism and nationalist sentiment, and inflaming ethnic tension with the Kurds – that carried the AKP to victory. Arguably, it was the only strategy that could work. After all, his regime has alienated liberals with its attacks on the media; business leaders with its expropriation of companies affiliated with his erstwhile allies in the so-called Gülen movement; and the West with its confrontational language and inconsistent stance on the Islamic State.

And yet financial markets, evidently placing a premium on stability, hailed the outcome. A majority AKP government, investors apparently believed, would be much better than the likely alternative: a period of political uncertainty, followed by a weak and indecisive coalition or minority administration. But, in this case, there was not much wisdom in crowds.