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At the epicenter, Erdogan remains popular | Recep Tayyip Erdogan News

At the epicenter, Erdogan remains popular |  Recep Tayyip Erdogan News


KARAMANMARAS, TURKEY – “We were all alone. It was raining and we waited for several days in front of the collapsed building. It didn’t come,” says Fatma, who sits with other women in a soup kitchen set up in a large white tent in the courtyard of an empty building in the southern Turkish city of Kahramanmaras. Someone to help us.”

This cry reverberates throughout the quake zone, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was accused earlier this year of a slow response to the disaster, and lax enforcement of existing building regulations. “Where is the country?” People were asking again and again as they camped out in front of the demolished buildings, waiting for the bodies of their loved ones to be recovered.

But with buildings collapsing in the center of Kahramanmaras – the historic stronghold of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party – the same cannot be said of support for the incumbent president.

The ruling party’s coalition with the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party currently holds seven seats out of eight in the province.

Just three months ago, the city was closest to the epicenter of the twin earthquakes that devastated the region on February 6 and killed at least 51,000 in Turkey alone. On Sunday, its citizens are called to vote in what may be the most important election in the country’s recent history.

“We can’t afford the rent”

Outside the tent, a local NGO is distributing free food to those who, like Fatima, were made homeless by the earthquakes. Its neighborhood in the center of Kahramanmaras suffered the biggest losses in the city. The area is now a cratered, rubble-strewn land where dozens of tall buildings stand, and where thousands of people live and work.

Fatima launches a sermon about everything that has gone wrong since then – at the end of which she asks that her real name be withheld.

“My husband is sick, we can’t stay in the camp, so my friend is hosting us,” she told Al Jazeera, “but how long can this go on? How long can we be a burden to others?”

The hairdresser, 50, says her husband is unable to work because of a back injury, while she has lost all her clients since the disaster.

“We can’t afford to rent an apartment. You used to be able to rent for 5,000 TL [$255]. Now you need at least 7000-8000 [$357-$408]”, referring to the rise in rental prices due to the high demand after the earthquakes, as well as inflation, which reached more than 80 percent last year, according to official data.

I think the government is not distributing aid well. They must ascertain who is in need and who is not.

Some people are responsible

In an increasingly polarized political climate, polls and research indicate that the earthquake may have little impact on the outcome of the upcoming elections. One survey conducted by the SESRIC indicates that while 90 percent of government supporters rate the government’s response to the earthquake as successful, 90 percent of opposition supporters say it failed.

And while perceptions and ideas may differ across the 11 earthquake-affected regions, in Kahramanmaras ‘zero point’ this seems to be largely true.

“Of course, I think some people were to blame, who didn’t follow the building regulations,” says Mesut Islamoglu, 43, who recently reopened his optics shop in a small shipping container along one of the main thoroughfares of the city centre, across the road from where he was. His shop stood for 18 years before going under.

“We are people who believe that this is a disaster from God,” he says. “We grieve for the people we have lost, and for all the people we knew. But we consider ourselves very fortunate to be living in the midst of such a great disaster.”

Mesut Islamoglu, center, outside his recently reopened shop [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]

He says business is slowly picking up with demand for glasses soaring and many residents of the city returning over the past two weeks.

Nearby, workers knock over more containers being built to replace the abandoned shopping center across the road. A few people sit at tables set on a sidewalk in a makeshift café selling typical freekeh, a local specialty bread made with sun-dried yoghurt and thyme.

We were told that the government would build containers [for us]But I knew it would take some time, he says, “so why be an extra burden on our state?”

“he’s the only one”

Erdogan’s People’s Alliance bloc faces a six-party coalition known as the Nation Alliance and headed by the leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

For weeks, the two have been in a fright in the polls. Kilicdaroglu had a slight lead even though many still expected the presidential election to be held in the second round on May 28.

The list of joint opposition includes staunch secularists as well as political Islamists and disaffected former allies of Erdogan. They promised to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy and reverse Erdoğan’s unorthodox economic policies based on interest rate cuts – which many economists blame for the country’s soaring inflation and the Turkish currency’s loss of more than 70% of its value in the past two years.

I trust Erdogan. We lost 11 cities due to the earthquake. “I think he is the only person who can rebuild it,” Islamoglu concludes.

The pits are located where the buildings once stood in the shopping district of Kahramanmaras [Ylenia Gostoli/Al Jazeera]
Silent campaign

Billboards across the city carry posters of both Kilicdaroglu and the opposition as well as Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. One particularly effective photo does not seem to address the electorate, but it does bear the slogan “Solidarity of the Century” alongside a photo of Erdogan embracing a weeping veiled woman. It claims that the state mobilized all its resources for the earthquake victims.

More than 200,000 buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged in the earthquakes, and the estimated cost to Turkey could be in excess of $100 billion, according to United Nations estimates.

Political campaigning was silenced throughout the earthquake zone, as there were no raucous marches or campaign buses blasting propaganda songs.

“We hold meetings with people out of respect for the victims,” ​​says Ali Oztung, a local politician and deputy leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party. It is estimated that while a million people left the city after the earthquake, now more than half have returned.

While voters may still be loyal to Erdogan, he says people have directed their anger toward the AKP’s local administration.

There was a backlash against the mayor, the municipality and the deputies. In this region, every Erdogan drop below 70 percent is a failure,” says Oztung.

With Turkish citizens called to cast two different votes on May 14 — one for the president and the other for a local member of parliament — he says he hopes some voters in the province will split their votes and choose Erdogan as president, but give their parliamentary seat to the opposition.

Ultimately, the impact of one of the world’s greatest disasters on this major election will only be measured the morning after the vote.

Fatima, for her part, has no doubts about at least one of her votes.

“I don “t think so [the government] let us down For the presidential election, I’m going to vote for Tayeb,” she explains, referring to the incumbent by his middle name.

“But for Parliament, I might vote for someone else, just to give everyone a chance.”




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