Earthquake exacerbates predicament for Turkish leader as elections draw near

Ankara – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 20 years ago on a wave of public anger over his previous administration’s handling of a deadly earthquake.

With three months to go before elections, Erdogan’s political future may hinge on how the public perceives the government’s response to similar events. devastating natural disaster.

Sonel Kagaptai, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute and the author of several books, said, “For President Erdogan, who has established himself as an autocratic figure, but as a man who can get the job done. , this will be a big challenge.” A book about Erdogan.

The aftermath of a major earthquake isn’t the only similarity to the 2002 presidential election. At the time, Turkey was in the midst of a financial crisis that was taking a toll on its economy.

Today Turkey’s economy is taking a hit. Soaring InflationPresident Erdogan has faced widespread criticism for his response to the problems that make a living for millions of poor and middle-class people.

Erdogan’s political rivals have already begun to criticize his government’s response to the earthquake, saying he has failed to prepare the country for the inevitable for two decades.experts point out Lax enforcement of building codes But with less than 100 days until elections, Erdogan’s rivals have yet to field a candidate to challenge him.

Analysts say the memory of the late Prime Minister Brent Ecevit’s poor response to financial and natural disasters 20 years ago was marred by President Erdogan’s efforts to contain the two problems we now face. It must be in your heart.

Nine hours after the magnitude 7.8 quake on February 6, another powerful earthquake struck, killing more than 24,000 people in both Turkey and Syria.

The devastation has spread across large swaths of Turkey, affecting 10 provinces in the country’s southeast, straining the ability of domestic and foreign crews to carry out rescue operations quickly. A few days after the quake struck, Turkish television and social media showed people waiting helplessly by piles of rubble in the frigid cold, or pushing their way through the rubble with their bare hands.

“We still need to see the outcome of the relief effort, whether subzero temperatures will persist, whether casualties will increase, and whether the international aid flowing in will make a difference,” Kagaptai said.

Erdogan, who toured the region this week, said: perceived shortcomings Although it was in the early stages of its response, it claimed that everything was under control.

“If the disaster response is strong, polls will probably reward the ruling government,” said Timothy Ashe, an analyst at BlueBay Asset Management in London, in an email. It is.”

Ecevit blamed the scale of the devastation for inadequate response after the 1999 earthquake killed about 18,000 people. Likewise, Erdogan said his response to this week’s earthquake, which he described as “the strongest in the history of this geography” – has been hampered by winter weather and the destruction of major airports, leaving many trapped. He said it made it difficult to reach people quickly.Debris.

“It is impossible to prepare for such a catastrophe,” Erdogan said, promising that “we will not neglect the care of our people.”

Erdogan’s handling of the bumpy earthquake so far has not been good for Erdogan’s reputation, but analysts say he has a plan to turn things around before elections scheduled for May 14. He says he has time.

Hamish Kinnear, a Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in an email: “He has control of the state and Turkish politics was not a level playing field before the earthquake. I didn’t,” he said.

Shortly after the earthquake, President Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency, giving him the power to make “generous public expenditures” in these areas, believing Erdogan’s victory is still likely. Kinnear said.

Erdogan pledged to donate 10,000 Turkish lira ($530) to those affected by the earthquake to help with rent. On Friday, he said another 100 billion lira ($5.3 billion) would be allocated for post-earthquake efforts.

In the last presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, Erdogan and his parliamentary alliance won overwhelmingly in seven of the ten provinces devastated by this week’s earthquake. And in recent years, he has pushed for changes that have eliminated checks and balances between different branches of government, and has focused more power on the presidency.

In Turkey, where freedom of expression is restricted and the government controls the media so much, TV stations appear to mainly show scenes of “miraculous deliverance” and censor scenes of hardship. increase.

President Erdogan has raised minimum wages, pensions and salaries for civil servants amid raging inflation. While these measures may have been popular with voters, others brought him harsh criticism.

For example, he advocates fighting inflation by: repeat interest rate cuts Stimulate growth — Strategies that mainstream economists around the world say only exacerbate the problem.

For now, all eyes are on the earthquake response.

In the hard-hit city of Adiyaman, Ahmet Aydin, a resident who lost six relatives and his home, shop and car in the quake, complained of the slow response to the emergency. But he said he would never stop supporting Erdogan, highlighting the Turkish leader’s potentially enduring appeal.

“We trust the president,” Aydin said. “He never left us alone. He never left us hungry or thirsty. May Allah protect him.”

Erdogan’s political rivals tell a different story.

Earlier this week, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kirikdaroglu blamed Erdogan’s 20-year rule for the devastation.

Let me be clear. If there is one person in charge of this process, it is Erdogan,” Kirikdaroglu said in a video address. “This government failed to prepare the country for earthquakes in her 20 years.”

He also accused the government of wasting taxes imposed in the wake of the 1999 earthquake intended to prepare the country for future disasters.

As the death toll continues to rise by the day, Erdogan says the country’s leaders should try to overcome the political strife.

“This is a time of solidarity and solidarity,” he said Wednesday. “In times like these, I cannot accept how such a dirty, negative campaign is led for basic and political good.”


Birginsoy reported from Istanbul.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. Earthquake exacerbates predicament for Turkish leader as elections draw near

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