Erdogan could still win despite quake backlash - GulfToday

Erdogan could still win despite quake backlash

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the coordination center of Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) in Ankara, Turkey. Reuters

Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the coordination center of Turkey's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) in Ankara, Turkey. Reuters

Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for June 18th, the last date allowed, but in January President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decided to move voting forward by a month. As justification, he said voters would be diverted from casting ballots by summer holidays. Following the deadly and devastating February 6th earthquakes which killed more than 45,000 in southeast Turkey, Erdogan briefly reconsidered the June date but stuck with May. He took this decision although he personally and his government have been castigated over their slow response to rescue victims from the rubble and provide relief to quake survivors.

He has also been blamed for the failure to ensure that quake-resistant buildings were constructed under regulations adopted after the 1999 quake near Istanbul killed 17,000 and levelled industries as well as homes and infrastructure. While it was estimated that 8 million buildings constructed before 2000 were very vulnerable to quakes, the authorities did nothing to rectify the situation or to insist on adherence to regulations for quake-proofing new structures. Instead, Erdogan repeatedly promoted amnesties for offending contractors who built 7 million units.

Despite these failings, several Turkish commentators said Turks who are shocked and unsettled by the quakes could choose the security offered by Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) rather than uncertainties created by a victory for the opposition. Pollster Osman Sert also told Washington-based Al — Monitor website, “The longer Erdogan waits after the earthquake, the more difficult it would be for him to manage the economic fallout.”

Last weekend Erdogan must have believed himself blessed when Turkey’s six-faction opposition alliance was thrown into double disarray ahead of the elections. The crisis began on Friday with the decision of the IYIP (Good Party) to renege on a “collective agreement” reached on Thursday to appoint Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kilicdaroglu as the bloc’s presidential candidate.

Instead, IYIP chief Meral Aksener declared her party’s rejection of Kilicdaroglu after a stormy Thursday night session with senior members. She insisted that either the Istanbul or Ankara mayor should be chosen as the bloc’s candidate for the presidency. Some of last year’s polls showed that one or the other could defeat Erdogan who has been in power for two decades.

To make matters worse for the opposition, dubbed the Nation Alliance, Aksener accused the five other members of trying to bully the IYIP in order to impose their candidate. In response, her party defected. In a brief news conference she stated, “The Good Party was cornered. It was caught between a rock and a hard place. But it won’t be a rubber stamp of this policy” of imposition. She declared the party would continue to stand on its own against Erdogan and the AKP.

However, confusion reigned when late Friday night the two mayors Ekrem Islamoglu of Istanbul and Mansur Yavas of Ankara rejected the IYIP call and pledged their support for Kilicdaroglu. The mayors are set to meet Aksener to discuss her party’s exit from the alliance.

Before the IYIP defection, the six-party alliance consisted of the secular Kemalist CHP, the centre-right nationalist IYIP, the centre-right Democrat Party (DP), the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), and two former AKP factions, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and the Future Party (GP). The CHP is the mainstay of the alliance, the IYIP is the second largest faction with polls registering around 2-5 per cent support and the other members contributing small numbers of votes.

The democratic-socialist CHP, the main constituent of the bloc, was established in 1923 by the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The party remained in power for 27 years, making Turkey a one-party state until 1950 when Ataturk’s successor Ismet Inonu authorised multi-party elections. All political parties were suspended during military rule from 1980-1992, when the CHP was reconstituted as a more centrist grouping.

Under Kilicdaroglu the CHP has reverted to its traditional centre-left orientation. While he has also revived and reformed the CHP, under his leadership the Nation Alliance has not campaigned effectively. It did not issue its platform until October and then presented voters with a 200-page document few will read and dithered for months over who should be its presidential candidate.

For Turkey, Erdogan and the CHP, the coming election is a milestone as it will take place during the 100-year anniversary of the emergence of modern Turkey. Furthermore, the fate of the Turkish state for years to come could be determined by who wins. If Erdogan is victorious, he will continue to dominate the political and economic scene and promote faith-based domestic policies and an assertive neo-Ottoman foreign agenda which has alienated this region and the West. All of his policies contradict Ataturk’s vision of the state.

If the CHP is victorious, it vows to revert to Kemalist principles of “republicanism, reformism, secularism, populism, nationalism, and statism.” In practice, the CHP seeks to reduce presidential powers and restore Turkey’s parliamentary system through constitutional amendments, revive the economy, and revitalise relations with Europe and the US.

Opinion surveys conducted at the end of February were contradictory. ALF Research gave the opposition 47.6 per cent against 35.1 for the AKP and its National Movement Party (MHP) ally. Aksoy Research showed the opposition had 43.3 per cent and the AKP/MHP 38.9 per cent, but the Centre for Social Impact Studies reported the AKP/MHP had 44 per cent while the opposition had 27.3 per cent.

According to an Areda opinion survey of 3,000 respondents conducted from February 23rd-27th, Kilicdaroglu would gain 21.7 per cent of the vote while other members of the Nation Alliance would garner a couple of percentages. Since IYIP was predicted to win 2.6 per cent of the vote, its defection would not have saved the opposition from defeat. Erdogan would win by 49.8 per cent and the AKP with 38.5 per cent.

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