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‘He works hard’: Voters in Turkey’s earthquake zone back Erdoğan in second round | Türkiye

MPiles of rubble still block side streets in central Kahramanmaraş, three months after two deadly earthquakes destroyed large swathes of the city and killed 50,000 people in southeastern Turkey. Trucks remove the gigantic tangles of metal cables that once supported the shops and restaurants that lined the streets, while workers pick up shards of glass from the wrecked interior of the town’s much-loved ice cream shop.

Some of the towering piles of rubble that overshadowed buildings months ago have been cleared, but many buildings remain, bearing jagged cracks in their empty facades. The main signs of change are shacks lining the streets destroyed to temporarily house local businesses – as well as a few billboards indicating that an election is in progress.

An 18-year-old who only gave his name as Can wore a white cap bearing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s signature as he worked to clear a pile of rubble. “He is working hard for his country,” he said, explaining why he plans to back Erdoğan in Sunday’s run-off presidential election, a vote with far-reaching consequences for Turkey and its neighbors, as well as the relations with European allies in Moscow.

Turkey’s presidential elections offer voters a chance to end Erdoğan’s two decades in power, where he oversaw sweeping reforms and a construction boom as well as a growing financial crisis and a crackdown on his opponents. But what initially appeared to be a referendum on his rule became a missed opportunity for the Turkish opposition in the first round, leaving Erdoğan’s rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu trailing in the vote and seeking a path to victory in the second. round.

Nowhere was Erdoğan’s unexpected success more evident than in the regions affected by the devastating earthquakes in February, where he won a comfortable majority in seven of the 11 affected provinces. The findings have upended expectations that public outrage over the government’s belated emergency response, as well as widespread corruption in the construction sector that flourished under Erdoğan’s rule, could spark dramatic change. in the electorate, even among conservative Kahramanmaraş voters.

As it happens, the outrage did little to tarnish the president’s image, and he won with 72% of the vote in Kahramanmaraş, an area that encompasses both the centers of the initial earthquakes and some of the worst destruction. . While Erdoğan lost only 2% compared to the last election in 2018, the results of the parliamentary vote in Kahramanmaraş show that he himself is increasingly popular than his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has lost more than 11% of the vote since the last ballot. Many voters attributed government problems, including the earthquake response, to the AKP but not to Erdoğan.

Kılıçdaroğlu has pulled ahead by a slim margin in Turkey’s biggest cities, where inflation and a biting economic crisis are being felt the hardest. But his message of change failed to reach many rural provinces like Kahramanmaraş, where voters said they were unconvinced, instead underscoring Erdoğan’s record of revamping public services, overseeing progress of the country’s defense industry and development of infrastructure such as roads and airports, circumventing the relationship between corruption in the construction sector and destruction in the earthquake zone.

“If there’s a price to pay, it’s a burden we share for the sake of the economy,” said Hikmet Bülbül, as he surveyed the shelves of dresses and coats in his shop. Bülbül said he noticed a rise in prices but did not attribute them to Erdoğan’s policies.

“Yes, maybe Erdoğan should leave, but only if whoever takes his place would provide the same services,” he said.

Other residents have complained about the rubble, although Erdoğan has promised to rebuild every house destroyed within a year of the quakes and told Kahramanmaraş that the debris “has been removed”, during a recent campaign election in the city.

“I thought no one in Kahramanmaraş should vote at all in a show of criticism,” Fatma said. “I can’t say nothing was done, but it was very slow.”

A woman walks past badly damaged buildings.
Voters in earthquake-hit Kahramanmaraş have expressed concerns about what an opposition victory might bring. Photography: Metin Yoksu/AP

Voters expressed concerns about what an opposition victory might bring. They feared that Kılıçdaroğlu’s coalition was fragile and that the 74-year-old former accountant was a risky choice, ill-suited to the task of leading a country reshaped by Erdoğan’s two-decade rule. Many said they did not trust the opposition to solve their problems, including post-earthquake reconstruction, preferring to trust Erdoğan’s promises. On the outskirts of the city, construction of new homes for people displaced by the earthquakes continued apace, after state contractors began work at several sites across the province a few just weeks after the disaster.

Erdoğan in Türkiye in front of a destroyed building and surrounded by people
Erdoğan visits the site of destroyed buildings during his visit to Kahramanmaraş two days after the earthquake. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Some voters, including 20-year-old first voter Melike Özbulut, also feared that an opposition victory would mean a return to the forced secularism that prevailed in the years before Erdoğan came to power.

“I was born in 2000, I didn’t see the 1990s but my parents told me how it was. Voting for Kılıçdaroğlu means I could be in the same place as women like me back then, and I don’t want to put myself in that position,” she said with a smile. “That’s why I won’t vote for him.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s coalition includes religious parties and splinter groups from the AKP, intended to make socially conservative and religious voters feel safe opting for the opposition. Yet they featured little in the opposition campaign and the intended message of security was lost on voters like Özbulut.

“As you can see I wear a headscarf but my sister doesn’t… which shows that there is freedom in this country,” she said. “I vote for Erdoğan.”

In his shop selling silver jewelry in the shaded depths of Kahramanmaraş’s Old Bazaar, Mehmet Ustamazman said he had rebuffed the election efforts of AKP’s Forestry Minister Vahit Kirişci, a native of Kahramanmaraş who is recently rendered.

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“I asked him why he wasn’t there during the earthquake, I told him there was still rubble to clear and there were still people in mourning,” he said. said. The Ustamazman family lost 33 of their relatives in the earthquakes.

Ustamazman said he intended to vote for the six-party opposition coalition until he saw their public dispute over Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy. While he intended to vote for Erdoğan for the presidency and for the opposition parliamentary coalition to challenge the dominance of the AKP in Kahramanmaraş, opposition bickering made him suspicious, a- he declared. He voted for Erdoğan and the AKP in the first round, and intends to vote for Erdoğan again for the presidency.

“At the local level, we have to push the AKP to do things. But Erdoğan has already done a favor for the people, doing them many favors,” he said.

A destroyed house with the wall missing exposing what would have been the bathroom, with the toilet still intact the toilet is shown
The February earthquake destroyed entire streets in the area. Photo: Dia Images/Getty Images

Standing under a row of pendants and beads, the jewelry sparkling in the light, he explained his choice. “There are two options: the first does the job. The other criticizes those who do the work,” he said.

His 24-year-old son, Harun, lent a display case full of silver jewelery as he explained his commitment to protesting the vote, angered by what he saw as a malfunction in politics. In the first round, he had first wanted to vote for the fourth presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, but then İnce gave up, so he switched to the ultranationalist, Sinan Oğan, looking for a way to participate while expressing his displeasure with the regard to the two main ones. candidates.

“I want competition,” he said. “Like here at the bazaar.”

Harun grew frustrated and, like many young voters, remains disenchanted with the AKP, choosing instead to vote for right-wing nationalists.

“Change is always good, but the main thing is confidence. I would have felt comfortable with the opposition if they had rejected the HDP, I would have felt comfortable voting for them,” he said, referring to a Kurdish majority party that brought his support for Kılıçdaroğlu but did not join his coalition. “But the opposition just can’t trust me, I don’t feel comfortable with the way they do things. They don’t engender trust in people.

In the next vote, Harun plans to vote for Erdoğan, to encourage the opposition to improve. “If you want Erdoğan gone, you have to change the opposition first, then you can change Erdoğan,” he said. “Kılıçdaroğlu is not qualified.”

He added: “We need a new Erdoğan, someone who can fight his way to power, someone young.”


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