‘Lobster gate’ in Turkey sparks conversation about economic inequality

Image by Arzu Geybullayeva

There have been many “gates” in the history of global news, but not yet a “lobster gate.” At least, not until the members of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) landed in a lobster-related scandal this week.

Amid the deepening cost of living crisis in Turkey, ruling party MP Şebnem Bursalı found herself at the heart of public criticism when she posted a photo of a lobster dish during her trip to Monaco. Another party member, Salih Kahraman, also shared a photo of himself on social media celebrating his birthday with a lobster dish at the center of the table.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking at a party meeting, said in response, “We cannot have any waywardness in this movement,” referring to the members of the party. “There can never be a break from the nation's values and the nation's agenda,” added the President. Following the posts, the party was accused of further distancing itself from the people and living lavishly while regular citizens were facing growing impoverishment. Memes were quick to spread on social media, with the image of a lobster replacing the infamous light bulb of the party's official logo.

My new suggestion for the AKP symbol

Monaco getaways

After facing public shaming over her post on her social media post, Bursali said in a tweet she was sorry and that the photo was from a vacation with her family. “As a journalist for 30 years and now a member of parliament, I apologize to the public for this mistake, which I have never made in my social media posts. I am deeply saddened that my party, of which I am honored to be a member, and our President, whose path I am honored to walk with every breath, have been targeted for this reason.” Bursali also lashed back at critics, accusing them of trying to change the news agenda.

The restaurant menu at the Yacht Club de Monaco, where the photos were taken, features a lobster dish at EUR 72 for a 250-gram lobster. Converted to Turkish Lira, EUR 72 is approximately TRY 2,500. In Turkey, ordering a lobster at a restaurant would cost twice, if not three times, that price.

The restaurant itself is reserved for yacht club members and their guests only. The club boasts some 2,500 members from 81 nationalities, as per the club's website. The membership to the club is rather strict and involves a reference by two “sponsors” who must be club members. The new members are approved by the President of the club, HSH Prince Albert II.

Bursali did not explain how she ended up at the prestigious club.

And there was also Bahadır Yenişehirlioğlu, another parliament member and AKP representative, who shared a selfie on social media with a Rolex watch on his wrist. After receiving a negative reaction to his post, Yenişehirlioğlu deleted his post.

Much of the criticism is focused not necessarily on the fact that members of the ruling party have lavish lifestyles, eating lobsters and wearing expensive watches, but that this kind of lifestyle should not be shared online while the public at large is suffering from the financial crisis and poverty.

In his show, TV host and journalist Fatih Portakal said, “I don't care if you have hundred Rolex watches, you can eat tons of lobster, it is your money, you can spend it wherever you want. What is disturbing is this image you give to the public.”

Turkey has been grappling with an ongoing economic crisis, wherein the country's currency lost 40 percent of its value since last year and over 80 percent in the last five years. The state of the economy played a role in local elections where the ruling party lost to the opposition Republican People's Party.

In March, ahead of the local vote, the Central Bank hiked interest rates to 50 percent in an attempt to steady the national currency in the face of still-rising inflation. In April, the Central Bank governor Fatih Karahan promised to continue taking all the measures necessary to curb inflation which is estimated to exceed 70 percent come May.

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