As the death toll and the scale of the destruction of biblical proportions in the area of the earthquake in Turkey continues to rise, reminiscent of historical earthquakes that destroyed civilizations, including areas in ancient Greece, the question that inevitably arises is how this will affect Erdogan’s chances of re-election in the Turkish elections scheduled to take place on the 14th of May.
This question – in the midst of such a major disaster – may sound morbid, but no doubt all the moves by Erdogan and the Turkish state apparatus are and will be aimed at creating the image of an effective response to the disaster that will increase his chances of re-election.
However, up to this point, he seems to be losing the war of impressions. Aid to the earthquake victims is both too little and arrived too late.
And that opens up the prospect of calling off the elections until he can control the situation.
He has already declared martial law in the affected areas for three months. You will remember that The Economist magazine, in a recent edition – January 19, 2023 – raised the issue of a dictatorship in Turkey. ‘Turkey could be on the brink of dictatorship’ was the headline.
If this was true then, it is even more so now.
Of course, this may further worsen – notwithstanding the temporary rhetorical ceasefire – its relations with Greece.
The signs are there:
When a citizen dared to protest, the petulant Erdogan replied, “such things have always happened. It’s part of destiny’s plan.”
And in a speech in Kahramanmaras he attacked ‘provocateurs’, saying: “And of course there are problems. The circumstances are clear. It is not possible to prepare for a disaster like this.”
And this is correct to a certain extent. And I say to a certain extent because we see apartment buildings that collapsed like houses of cards, yet others right next to them are standing upright as if they were undamaged. Some builders obviously did not follow seismic construction specifications, while others did. Who is responsible for this?
In any case, in an earthquake this big, some damage was bound to happen no matter how much preparation was undertaken.
But it seems that the state machine was idle. It was reminiscent of past events that Erdogan himself took advantage of to climb to power.
This will follow Erdogan. Because for the more than 20 years he has been in power he has cultivated the image of an authoritarian but effective leader.
And that image, which has given him so many victories, is crumbling. And that must terrify him.
Will he be able to turn it around by May 14th, when the elections are scheduled to be held? Or will he need more time? If he judges that he doesn’t have enough time, then anything is possible. Both for the timing of the elections and for his relations with Greece.
So, if he was dangerous before, now he is…even more dangerous.