Updated: Aug 3
The devastating earthquakes could delay upcoming elections as Turkey’s president faces backlash.
As the death toll continues to rise after the devastating earthquakes in Turkey, so, too, does the political danger for the country’s leader.
Opposition politicians are openly blaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for the fact the country was ill-prepared for the catastrophe, as well as for the slow relief effort which they say has been worsened by the state’s failure to cooperate and coordinate with local authorities and relief agencies.
The anger is mounting as the Turkish president faces elections in three months’ time, in what is likely to be the closest-fought contest in Erdoğan’s 20-year rule.
“They failed in this as they failed in every other issue, they don’t know how to manage the state,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition party CHP, said. “If there is anyone responsible for this process, it is Erdoğan. It is this ruling party that has not prepared the country for an earthquake for 20 years.”
Erdoğan’s handling of this humanitarian crisis could affect the election results. The failed response of the then government to the huge earthquake in northwest Turkey in 1999 was widely seen as having given Erdoğan’s AKP party the opportunity to gain popular support.
A Turkish official told Reuters on Thursday that authorities could consider postponing this year’s election, because of the earthquakes.
“It seems like we have come out of the election period that we were entering. We will look at the developments, but right now there are serious difficulties in holding an election on May 14,” the official said. Some opposition politicians believe the polls will go ahead, even if they’re ultimately delayed.
The death toll in Turkey has risen to 19,388, while some 77,711 people had been injured.
Earlier this week, Kılıçdaroğlu visited several regions affected by the earthquakes, where residents complained about the lack of efficient search and rescue operations.
Critics say Turkey’s national funds meant for natural disasters were instead spent on highway construction projects managed by the government’s associates. In many areas the buildings that collapsed were built in early 2010 or as recently as the last couple of years and should normally have complied with earthquake regulations in force after the 1999 disaster.
Emergency teams are struggling to reach some of the affected areas, held back by broken roads, poor weather, and lack of resources and heavy equipment, as some areas are without fuel or electricity. The centralization of Turkey’s government means a number of restrictions are imposed on how aid organizations can operate, hampering rescue efforts.
Some survivors have said they were left out in freezing temperatures, without food or water, while others reported that even though they could hear their loved ones trapped under the rubble, no rescuers came to help release them.
On Thursday, three days after the quakes, Erdoğan inspected some of the areas and promised financial help of 10,000 liras ($530) for every affected family, while social housing would be built for all survivors within a year.
He also acknowledged that “of course, there (were) shortcomings” as “it’s not possible to be ready for a disaster like this,” but that “things are now back on track.” And he hit back against critics of the state’s response.
“Some dishonorable, dishonest people are making false statements such as ‘We didn’t see any soldiers or police.’ Our soldiers and police are honorable. We won’t let the disreputable speak of them like this,” he said.
On Friday though, Erdoğan acknowledged that the search and rescue operations could have been faster.
“Although we have the largest search and rescue team in the world right now, it is a reality that search efforts are not as fast as we wanted them to be,” he said.
“We will rebuild these buildings within one year and will hand them back to citizens. While we do that we will pay the rent of citizens who do not want to stay in tents,” he added.