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Erdoğan’s earthquake response a test for his leadership as elections loom

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attacked his critics and rarely acknowledged shortcomings as he responded to growing anxiety over his government’s response to this week’s devastating earthquake.

Erdogan also took advantage of Wednesday’s visit to the shattered city of Kahramanmaras, near the epicenter on Monday. earthquake, to denounce those he accused of using the disaster to advance their own ends. Such rhetoric would sustain public support when he faced one of the worst natural disasters in the country, just three months before his election, which would be the toughest in two decades in power. revealed his challenge.

“We don’t want provocateurs to be given an opportunity,” Erdogan said as he toured the region. hit by two major earthquakes, killed more than 15,000 in Turkey and neighboring Syria. “media [should] don’t give them a chance. . . Now is the time for unity and solidarity. “

Erdogan Although he oversaw a period of economic prosperity early in his presidency, he has leaned toward a more authoritarian stance since the mass protests of 2013 and an attempted coup three years later. In recent years, journalists have been jailed and civil liberties have been restricted as the Turkish president tightens his grip on state institutions.

May’s presidential and parliamentary elections are one of the few opportunities for the opposition to ally itself for the first time to fight Mrs May. change the balance.

In a sign of tension, Twitter, a popular medium for venting anti-government frustration, was suspended for seven hours on the day President Erdogan visited the earthquake-affected area, according to internet monitor Netblocks.

Rescue workers and civilians search for survivors under the rubble of a collapsed building in Kahramammaras © Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

As the country faced a crisis, the president’s popularity was waning before the catastrophe struck. Serious cost of living crisisThe economist said he was inflamed by the unconventional economic policies pursued by his government and central bank.

What happens next will depend on how the 68-year-old leader’s response to the deepening crisis is perceived by voters. Analysts offered mixed views on whether the turbulent events would hurt or improve Erdogan’s election prospects.

“Given the scale of the disaster, the response was swift and fairly solid,” said Emre Peker, European head of the Eurasia Group think tank. It will give us an edge in the run-up to the election.”

But Selim Koru, an analyst at Ankara-based think tank Tepav, countered, citing both earthquakes and blistering inflation: “People are miserable and tend to vote for change when they’re miserable.” He thought the government would try to postpone the election.

Turkey’s opposition already knows the earthquake and its response, and is waiting for an opportunity to criticize the president. “If anyone is primarily responsible for this, it is Erdogan,” said Kemal Kurchidalor, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “For more than 20 years, this government has not prepared the country for earthquakes.”

Disasters will likely scale back election campaigns as the focus shifts to finding and caring for survivors, clearing debris, and rebuilding infrastructure. Already, the CHP-led opposition coalition postponed next week’s meeting expected to announce a challenger to Erdogan.

Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kurchidalor
Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kulcidaloul © Depo/ABACA/PA Images

Three months emergency Erdogan’s proclamations in the affected areas — giving the government broad powers, which he previously deployed after the failed coup in 2016 — could also fall into the hands of the president.

Peker said it gave him “an expanded platform to showcase his strength and hone his image as Turkey’s ultimate and inevitable leader.”

“We will not approve emergency rules if that power is abused,” said CHP Vice-Chairman Gökçe Gökçen. Erdogan initially snubbed mayors of rebel-run cities in the earthquake zone, and the central government blocked aid convoys from the CHP-run city of Istanbul.

“If they had said, ‘Help me, send men,’ aid would have reached Hatay seven or eight hours earlier.”

Wolfango Piccoli, a political analyst at Teneo, said President Erdogan’s initial decision not to call opposition mayors was a mistake, saying, “Trying to score political points after people have died is not an option. About nine hours after the quake hit, a tweet from the president’s office said it had spoken with the mayor of the CHP of Hatay’s largest city.

Koll said there was a “whole awareness war being waged” in the media over the earthquake, highlighting deep divisions over the government’s response.

Analysts agreed that Erdogan would be judged by comparison to his response to the 1999 earthquake that killed 17,000 people. The then-ruling coalition was widely criticized for refusing international assistance and providing opaque updates.

In contrast, Erdogan “showed strong, visible and relatively transparent leadership and the rapid mobilization of all available resources, not making this a matter of pride, and readily accepting and facilitating international aid.” He said the government’s move to launch a TL100 billion ($5.3 billion) aid package marks a “better alignment” than in 1999.

But as a reminder of how important Erdogan’s reaction is ahead of the vote, Piccoli also warned that “mistakes will be costly.”

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