Erdogan’s response to the earthquake in Turkey could determine his re-election

The devastating earthquake in Turkey is a major test of governance for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is fighting for his political future just months before an election in May that could reshape the country.

Mr Erdogan came to power after a failed government response to a 1999 earthquake that claimed more than 17,000 lives and a financial crisis two years later. He dominated Turkish politics for the next two decades – but his support has been weakened recently by skyrocketing inflation that has tarnished his reputation as a capable, if controversial, administrator.

The earthquake “could really destroy Erdogan’s image as a powerful, autocratic but effective leader,” said Soner Cagaptay, who directs Turkey research at the Washington Institute, a policy research organization. “We have to wait and see – it could play out depending on the response to the disaster.”

Mr Erdogan, 68, faces a daunting task in the wake of Monday’s earthquake, which was one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters of this century. Damage could exceed $1 billion, according to an estimate by the United States Geological Survey. Thousands of dead and the toll is growing.

He also faces a political challenge: recent polls suggest that no one would win the first round of the presidential election, and that either of the two potential opposition candidates could beat Mr Erdogan in the presidential election. a second round, with survey margins ranging from one digit to more. more than 20 percentage points.

Turkish opponents and Western officials have accused Mr Erdogan of pushing the country towards autocracy, largely because of the sweeping powers he has granted himself since a narrow majority of voters passed a referendum in 2017 which expanded the role of the President.

On Tuesday, he declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 earthquake-hit provinces, authorizing restrictions on freedoms that could include curfews, travel bans and mandatory postings for civil servants.

The move raised immediate concerns, given the actions taken by Mr Erdogan in 2016 after a failed coup attempt against him. The nationwide state of emergency was originally supposed to last three months, but was extended for a total of two years. During this time, more than 100,000 people were detained and 150,000 public employees were purged from their jobs.

But analysts called Tuesday’s announcement an understandable step in light of the scale of the quake’s devastation. The three-month period would end shortly before the May 14 vote.

The opposition has so far refrained from criticizing the earthquake response, with all political parties issuing a rare joint statement of unity in the face of the earthquake on Tuesday.

nytimes Eur

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