The earthquake has added to Turkey’s leader’s woes as elections approach

The earthquake has added to Turkey’s leader’s woes as elections approach

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 20 years ago riding a wave of public anger over the previous government’s handling of a deadly earthquake.

Now, three months away from the election, Erdogan’s political future may depend on how the public perceives his government’s response to the same. Devastating natural disasters.

“This is going to be a big challenge for Erdogan, who has established a brand for himself as an authoritarian figure but gets the job done as an efficient person,” said Sonar Kagapte, a Turkey expert at the Washington Institute and the author of several books. Books on Erdogan.

The aftermath of a massive earthquake isn’t the only parallel to the 2002 election. At the time, Turkey was in the midst of a financial crisis that was punishing its economy.

Today Turkey’s economy is suffering Skyrocketing inflationAnd Erdogan has faced widespread criticism for his handling of the problem, which has left millions of poor and middle-class people struggling to make ends meet.

Erdogan’s political rivals have already begun criticizing his government’s response to the earthquake, saying that for two decades he has failed to prepare the country for the inevitable. Experts have indicated Relaxed enforcement of building codes One of the main reasons why this week’s earthquakes were so deadly. But with less than 100 days until the election, Erdogan’s rivals have yet to field a candidate to run against him.

Analysts say the memory of how the late Prime Minister Bulent Icevit weakened in the face of financial and natural disasters two decades ago must be on Erdogan’s mind as he tries to contain the twin problems he faces today.

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

The devastation has spread across a wide swath of Turkey, affecting 10 provinces in the country’s southeast, and it has undermined the ability of local and foreign crews to mount rapid rescue efforts. In the first days after the earthquake, Turkish television and social media showed people waiting helplessly by piles of frozen rubble, or using their bare hands to claw through the rubble.

“We still have to see the results of the relief efforts, whether the subzero temperatures continue, the number of casualties increases, whether the international aid that is flowing in can make a difference,” Kagapte said.

Erdogan, who visited the region this week, Recognized errors Early in the response but stressed that everything is now under control.

“If the disaster response is strong, the incumbent administration will be rewarded, perhaps in the election — if it is poor, the opposite,” Timothy Ash, an analyst at Bluebay Asset Management in London, wrote in an email.

Acevit blamed the weak response after the 1999 earthquake that killed nearly 18,000 people for the enormity of the destruction. Similarly, Erdogan said the response to this week’s earthquake – which he described as “the strongest in the history of this geography” – had been hampered by wintry weather and the destruction of a key airport, which made it difficult to quickly reach trapped people. the ruins

“It is not possible to be prepared for such a disaster,” Erdogan said, adding, “We will not leave any of our citizens unattended.”

While the response to the earthquake hasn’t been great for Erdogan’s reputation so far, analysts say he has time to turn things around before the May 14 election.

“He has the levers of state at his command and Turkish politics was hardly a level playing field before the earthquake,” Hamish Keener, Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk-research firm Verisk Maplecroft, said in an email.

Immediately after the earthquake, Erdogan declared a three-month state of emergency, giving him the power to make “abundant government spending” in the region, said Keener, who believes Erdogan’s victory is still possible.

Erdogan pledged to donate 10,000 Turkish liras ($530) to earthquake victims and subsidize their rent. He said on Friday that an additional 100 billion lira ($5.3 billion) would be allocated for post-earthquake efforts.

In the last presidential and parliamentary elections of 2018, Erdogan and his coalition swept parliament in seven of the 10 provinces devastated by this week’s earthquake. And in recent years he has pushed through changes that have eliminated checks and balances between the various branches of government, concentrating more power in the president.

In Turkey, freedom of expression is limited and the government largely controls the media, meaning that television stations mostly show scenes of “miracle rescues” and censor scenes of suffering.

In the face of brutal inflation, Erdogan has increased the minimum wage, pensions and salaries of civil servants. While these moves may be popular with voters, others have harshly criticized him.

For example, he insisted on fighting inflation Repeated interest rate cuts to stimulate growth – a strategy that mainstream economists around the world say makes the problem worse.

For now, all eyes are on the earthquake response.

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

“We trust our president,” Aydin said. “He will never leave us alone, He will never leave us hungry or thirsty. May God protect him.”

Erdogan’s political rivals tell a different story.

This week, Turkey’s main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu blamed the collapse of Erdogan’s two-decade rule.

“Let me be very clear; If one is responsible for this process, it is Erdogan,” Kilicdaroglu said in a video address. For 20 years, this government has not prepared the country for an earthquake.

He accused the government of wrongly spending taxes imposed in the wake of the 1999 earthquake that were meant to prepare the country for future disasters.

As the death toll rises daily, Erdogan said the country’s leaders should try to stay above the political fray.

He said on Wednesday, ‘This is the time for unity and standing together. “I can’t stand how such dirty and negative campaigns are conducted for basic, political interests.”


Bilginsoy reports from Istanbul.

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