Early elections are to be held in Turkey after all, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirms. During a Wednesday, March 1st, speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, the Turkish leader expressed his hope that the nation would “hopefully do what is necessary on May 14th.”
Originally, the elections had been scheduled for June 18th. Last January, president Erdoğan however decided to advance these elections by a month to avoid them coinciding with the summer holidays—which, as an added bonus, would give the opposition less time to prepare.
Plans for presidential and parliamentary elections in May however came under fire in the wake of February’s devastating earthquake, whose handling by Erdoğan’s government has been much-criticized.
Since the ripple effects of the humanitarian crisis—with over 45,000 in Turkey dead, 108,000 injured, and 1,5 million homeless—are still making themselves felt, some within his party suggested elections should be postponed until later in the year or held as previously scheduled, on June 18th.
As early as one week ago, Erdoğan himself was considering taking that route.
Whatever the timing of these elections, Erdoğan and his party are expected to take a beating, as many of those affected are residents of regions where support for Erdoğan and the AKP has traditionally been high.
In the 2018 presidential election, he won 55% of the vote in the 10 quake-hit-provinces, with his party and its partners garnering similar numbers in that year’s parliamentary election.
Yet, even before the earthquake, years of soaring inflation, a slumping Turkish lira, and a lack of preparedness for dealing with last year’s major forest fires, had already dented Erdoğan’s popularity.
In a bid to keep these voters on his side, during his Wednesday speech, Erdoğan promised what is certain to be a challenging reconstruction effort.
“We will remove the debris, we will heal the wounds, we will replace the collapsed houses with well-constructed ones, we will win the hearts, we will build a new future and a new life for our people,” he pledged.
Due to the “storm of earthquakes” Turkey suffered, 204,000 buildings either collapsed, were severely damaged, or must be demolished immediately, he added.
Earlier, Erdoğan had promised that while reconstruction would be completed within the year, it would take many months before thousands could trade temporary housing for permanent housing. The World Bank, meanwhile, has stated such an undertaking would require at least $34 billion.
Defending Ankara’s immediate response to the crisis, he said that despite the assignment of 271,000 civil servants to the region, “there were some shortcomings, disruptions and delays … Telling the shortcomings and asking for blessing is not our weakness, it is the expression of the sincere love between us and our nation,” he added.
Another challenge would be organizing the elections in the first place. Of the 14 million Turks from the affected earthquake zone, a considerable portion has since taken refuge in other parts of the country.
The government, in what proves to be a major logistical challenge, is now working toward reaching these voters before the elections take place. To that end, this week officials are to visit the region to draw up a report on its preparedness.