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Survivors of the Turkish earthquake reconsider their loyalty to the elections to Erdogan

Survivors of the Turkish earthquake reconsider their loyalty to the elections to Erdogan


Nearly 30 interviews with survivors show change in views Erdogan’s conservative stronghold destroyed, anger at slow response Anger at comments from officials But few said they would support the opposition in the May vote Government appears confident rebuilding can boost the support.

KARAMANMERAS, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could have relied on strong voter support from Sigdetepe and other villages and towns across southeast Turkey in the past, but a massive earthquake and a slow rescue response made the support even more loyal. Uncertain.

There are signs that his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is increasingly aware it cannot take previous votes for granted, as officials speak of accelerated rebuilding plans ahead of elections in May, which could prove the toughest in power for more than two decades. From time to Erdogan.

“This whole village voted for the AKP even though no one knows why,” said a truck driver in Cigdemtepe, perched above cotton and garlic fields in Kahramanmaras province, an area where entire urban centers have been destroyed.

“The earthquake definitely changes our mind because the first responders and the tents were very late in arriving,” he said.

It is difficult to quantify the challenge Erdogan faces, given the lack of voting in the region. In addition, the opposition backed away before finally agreeing on a candidate to challenge Erdogan, alarming voters, while experts say those affected by the earthquake could quickly change their minds.

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But Reuters interviews with nearly 30 residents in the past week in Kahramanmaras, Adiyaman and Gaziantep — provinces where white tents dot the landscape of dilapidated or collapsed buildings — indicate shifting political allegiances, even among die-hard Erdogan supporters.

“My mind has completely changed,” said a student in Kahramanmaras countryside, like other students. “We are breathing AK here but this earthquake changed everything for us. These people don’t know what to do.”

The deadliest disaster in Turkey’s modern history devastated cities and towns and killed tens of thousands of people a month ago, most of them in a conservative stronghold that has staunchly supported Erdogan and the AKP for two decades.

While only a small sample of the 14 million people affected by earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, the opinions of those interviewed shed light on how these mostly rural, working-class voters affected the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Many resented the AKP’s years of permissive building policies that allowed up to eight floors of concrete flats to be built – thousands of which were destroyed in the earthquakes.

Some were alarmed by what they saw as insensitive statements by political leaders including Erdogan, who asked for forgiveness last week for a response to the earthquake that could have been faster, while others derided the government’s plan to rebuild the region in just one year.

But people also struggled to imagine voting for opposition parties and their new candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The AKP has ruled Turkey without a serious electoral challenge since 2002, and party insiders told Reuters they are aware of the anger among their voter base in the southeast but are confident a combination of swift rebuilding and a bemused opposition will deliver victory.

One party official said they would redirect the population’s focus to the rebuilding effort and stress that only Erdogan can do it quickly. Another said they would offer reconstruction in an area where 227,000 buildings collapsed or face demolition.

Pollsters have mostly avoided surveying those in the disaster zone, while national polls have found that the AKP has maintained its support. They point to a narrow electoral contest despite the cost-of-living crisis that gripped Turks long before the 7.8-magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks led to more criticism of the government.

Unconvincing opposition

The centrist opposition bloc finally appointed, on Monday, former civil servant Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party since 2010, as its candidate.

The region voted 65% or more in favor of the AKP and its nationalist ally the MHP in the last elections in 2018. Several residents told Reuters that opposition parties were late in naming a candidate and that they would only support a candidate with nationalist roots, such as Ankara. Mayor Mansur Yavas – who is set to be one of Kilicdaroglu’s vice-presidents if he wins.

A building materials trader in Adiyaman, a city of 650,000 whose downtown is a wasteland of crumbling concrete, scoffed at Kilicdaroglu’s idea as president.

Omor, a young accountant in the city, said he planned to cast his first ever ballot for the opposition but only if the candidate was “someone as unobtrusive and efficient as Yavas”.

It is not wise to hold elections.

Officials briefly floated the idea of ​​postponing the election — before backtracking and moving forward with the May 14 date, a decision that some find difficult to comprehend.

“It is not wise to hold elections in May,” said Mahmoud, an insurance worker in the town of Basni, where after the earthquake he said he could hear his cousins ​​under the rubble for two days before they heard his cousins ​​under the rubble. The votes stopped.

He said Erdogan’s request for a pardon was poorly received, adding that he usually votes for the MHP.

“There are many who want to vote for the opposition… I can too, but I will not vote for Kilicdaroglu because he did not win any elections,” he said.

Mehmet, 52, a subcontractor who lives with his wife and child in a tent in Adiyaman, said that “everyone” votes for Erdogan as president and he will do that too, but he will punish the AKP by voting for the MHP.

Muhammad Ali Qulat, chairman of the MAK polling firm, said survivors of previous earthquakes tend to blame the government at first, and later return to those who rebuild homes.

There are only about 55 buildings left in Igdeli. The villagers have set up their own tents and intend to rebuild themselves.

“The government of the past 20 years has not worked for the people,” said farmer Mohamed, 70. “I don’t think the opposition is up to the task either. But we need a radical change.”

Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara. Writing by Jonathan Spicer, Editing by Alexandra Hudson

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.




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