Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on January 23, 2023.
Ankara – The devastating earthquake that struck Turkey in 1999 helped bring former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power. The government at the time faced strong criticism for how it responded to the disaster, which claimed the lives of 17,000 people. However, Monday's earthquake, which affected the southeastern part of the country, may, on the contrary, shake the position of the current president, who is running for another mandate, writes the international press. Erdogan's opponents are already criticizing the form and speed of government aid in an area where the opposition and pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) is strong.
Photo gallery: Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria
The previous large-scale earthquake with several thousand dead hit Turkey in 1999. At that time, 17,000 people died in and around Istanbul. “The government at the time faced strong criticism over its response, and public anger over how (the government) responded to the earthquake contributed to the rise of current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 election and began his two decades of dominance on the Turkish political scene,” reminds The Wall Street Journal. Among other things, the cabinet at the time faced criticism that it did not set sufficiently strict rules for construction in seismically active areas.
According to analysts, Erdogan's government's response to this week's earthquake could have a significant impact on the outcome of the presidential and parliamentary elections that await Turkey in the middle of the year, Reuters writes. Erdogan will seek a third presidential mandate in them. According to Washington analyst Soner Cagaptay, the government's response to the earthquake “could really destroy Erdogan's image as a powerful, authoritarian but also effective leader.” Cagaptay told a reporter for The Washington Post on Tuesday that “the next 48 hours will be crucial for Erdogan's career”.
In his 20 years in power, Erdogan has had to deal with a whole series of natural disasters without significantly damaging his preferences so far. But the AKP has recently seen an outflow of voters due to Turkey's economic problems. If the public evaluated the actions of the authorities as successful, then, on the contrary, the ruling party could strengthen. In addition, Erdogan tends not to appear in public much at critical moments.
“He usually leaves it to his ministers and associates to take care of problems. If something goes wrong, he can blame them,” she told Politico analyst Gönül Tolová.
However, the government's response to the earthquake is gradually becoming a topic of Turkish domestic politics, the DPA agency wrote today. The head of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the opposition bloc's likely candidate for president, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, criticized Erdogan for failing to prepare the country for possible future earthquakes in the past 20 years. According to him, the government is failing to provide aid to the affected areas. “There is no professional coordination of aid here,” said the head of the opposition Party of Good, Ugur Poyraz. Erdogan responded to initial criticism by declaring a state of emergency in the affected areas on Tuesday. According to the president, there are also a lot of lies about the earthquake.
The opposition called on the government to be politically neutral when providing aid. A strong Kurdish community lives in some of the affected areas, and the People's Democratic Party achieved good results there in the 2018 elections. This is what the authorities are trying to cancel due to alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
A source close to Erdogan told Bloomberg that the president insists on his intention to hasten the elections. These should be held on May 14 instead of the original summer date.