Erdogan’s Credibility Undermined, by Ariane Bonzon (Le Monde Diplomatic Office)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan inspects buildings damaged by the February earthquake, Kahramanmaras, Turkey, February 10, 2023

Adem Altan AFP Getty

T.he The two quakes on February 6th were massive catastrophes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 10 provinces were affected, tens of thousands dead, thousands unidentified, nearly 2 million homeless, some waiting for days. It called it the “disaster of the century”, destroying entire neighborhoods and destroying much of its public infrastructure. badly damaged.

Beyond a humanitarian emergency, the disaster raises questions of the president’s political responsibility and Turkey’s future diplomatic influence. With the crucial parliamentary and presidential elections just a few months away, voting will become even more important.

Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 and plans to run again, has reason to fear defeat. That means he and those around him will step down after being held accountable for multiple rule of law violations during the AKP regime over the past decade. He could face charges of fraud and corruption. “President Erdogan knows very well that if he loses the election, he will have to appeal to the High Court for treason and embezzlement,” said Byram Barsi, a researcher at the French Center for International Studies (CERI).

Before the quake, he performed well even though some polls showed him trailing his main rival, the center-left secular Republican People’s Party (CHP). It didn’t seem too bad. Indeed, the economic crisis and an annual inflation rate of over 80% have turned his promises to nothing. Specifically, Turkey has pledged to become one of the world’s top 10 largest economies with a GDP per capita of $25,000 by 2023. Over the past decade it has actually fallen by $1,903 to $9,327 and the Turkish economy ranks him 20th in the world.

But Erdogan still had some cards. He scored some points in the polls by pledging to build 500,000 public housing units in September 2022 and promising a 50% minimum wage hike four months later. Another common measure is the abolishment of the retirement age requirement, which has enabled almost 2 million Turkish workers who have paid their premiums in full to start claiming pensions.

hardline foreign policy

Although criticized by the West, his aggressive foreign policy in the Caucasus and Africa, combined with the bombing of separatist Kurdish militias in northern Syria, has led to opposition forces in Turkey (and the People’s Democratic Party, of course). (HDP, left, Kurdish autonomist). There was also widespread support for the decision to repatriate thousands of Syrian refugees who were previously “guests” but are now unwelcome. (1). Finally, Ankara has refused to apply sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine, thereby gaining market share in the country and delighting many Turkish voters.

Erdogan’s challenge may not have been easy, but he should have rightly believed he still had a chance to win the election until the earthquake. If the deficit is not too large, the vote deficit could be made up through manipulation, which was successfully used in the 2017 referendum and the 2018 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Turkey is forced to face its own problems… Neither Erdogan nor MHP allies likely to take advantage of rising nationalist

Jill Dronsolo

However, the disaster in February this year had a devastating impact on Turkish society. In the state where the earthquake struck, he directly affected 13 million people, whole nations were glued to their lives, search and rescue operations were reported on his 24-hour television, and he called for donations.

Two days after the disaster, CHP leader Kemal Kultidalor released a somber video expressing sympathy for the victims and criticizing the authorities’ “incompetence” and “disinformation”. “If anyone is to blame, it’s Erdogan,” he said. For twenty years, this government failed to prepare the country for earthquakes. ” Such a frontal attack is unusual. Kurdish-Cudalor said the party had systematically adopted national unity measures in recent years, following terrorist attacks, military operations abroad, and the failed rebellion of July 2016 and the dismissal of a Kurdish HDP parliamentarian. abandoned the principle.

“The opposition very quickly started discussing how to deal with the crisis, over-centralization of the regime, favoritism and delays in sending troops,” said Jean-François Perouse, an expert on Turkey.Ekrem Immamor [mayor of Istanbul, CHP] It immediately fell to the ground. In Hatay, the CHP metropolitan municipality, which came to the aid of its devastated sister province, demonstrated exemplary efficiency, almost taking over the province in organizing relief efforts and building infrastructure. ”

Serahatin Demirtas, Former HDP Co-President (2)He, who has been in prison for more than five years, similarly blamed Erdogan for the tragedy. He also expressed his support for the CHP candidate. If the HDP’s Kurdish base follows suit, it could mean Erdogan’s election defeat.

Could Erdogan be a savior?

Erdogan’s task (and only hope of winning an election) is to make people forget their political responsibilities and pretend they are the saviors of a country in full control of aid and reconstruction. It is to be. This was the focus of his PR war in which he mobilized the country’s resources.

At the scene, he initially blamed fate and later admitted that his response was “flawed”, saying it was “impossible to be prepared for a disaster like this”. Arrest warrants were then issued against several developers and builders in an attempt to shift the blame. In fact, establishing responsibility is not easy and can extend down to the municipal level where construction was licensed. According to Peruz, 40% of the housing stock built since 2000 has been demolished, while the Turkish General Directorate of Multimodal Housing (Toki, Topul Konut Idaresi Bashkanlu Baskanl), the government authority in charge of public housing, has been demolished. It is said that the building that was built by

Parallel to the arrest, Erdogan announced a payment of 10,000 Turkish lira ($530) to all affected families and promised to provide new housing for the homeless within a year, which is unrealistic ambition, said several observers, including Sunan Jürgen, director of the independent think tank EDAM, based in Turkey. Istanbul argues that it would be impossible to replace 250,000 buildings within such a period.

Ankara immediately decided to request international aid, despite the national appeal being broadcast on a public television channel. More than 80 countries responded, including the United States, several European countries, and strained ties Greece, Armenia and Israel.

“Turkish public opinion is going through a kind of psychological shock. It has fed on narratives of its conquest, its alienation of France in Africa and its role as an intermediary between the West and Russia. suddenly became dependent on international aid,” says Gilles Delonsolo, a political scientist at the Pantheon 1 in Paris. Sorbonne University.

Few analysts believe that accepting international aid will work in Erdogan’s favor. “Turkey is weakened and will have to make an effort,” former French Ambassador Michel Duclos said after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken visited Turkey on February 19. The US government could ask, for example, to stop helping Russia. The US may also suggest that the Turkish government intervene in Azerbaijan to lift the embargo on the Lachin Corridor, which connects Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Indeed, whether in Libya or the Aegean, there is a long list of friction points that “seismic diplomacy” and the new balance of power it brings could help resolve.

Foreign Policy Paused

The EU announced a donor conference to be held under the chairmanship of Sweden, which is blocking Turkey from joining NATO, much to the satisfaction of Russia. Putin presses Erdogan to accept Turkey-Syria relations normalization (see) Divided, warring, crumbling Syria, with this issue), you could probably become a victim of this. But analyst Gareth Jenkins cautioned against jumping to conclusions that Erdogan’s aggressive foreign policy was more than just a pause in the aftermath of the earthquake. “We must not forget that President Erdogan is a champion of a multi-league, a ‘free union’ to replace the ‘traditional diplomatic marriage’,” said Bertrand Badi, professor emeritus at the Polyscience Academy. “This gives him the resources to manage, interpret and direct international aid policy.”

The catastrophe made the war of words between Israel and Greece difficult. As a result, Urgen believes, “the campaign will be more domestic than international.” Will the vote be pushed forward to May 14th, as the president himself announced before the earthquake, or will it stick to the June 18th date? Could he even delay the election by a year, as some close to him argue? The Constitution allows this only in times of war and only with parliamentary approval (unsurprisingly, the opposition is against it). And in any case, a 2017 constitutional amendment barred the president from running for a third term unless the parliament was dissolved by June, which included far more than the 335 votes Erdogan could expect. 360 more votes are needed.

“It is not in his interest to postpone the elections for too long,” Barsi said. “In the coming months, the mismanagement of the crisis will become even more evident, [other] Weakness and inability to satisfy everyone. ” Especially since the economic situation is already deteriorating and is unlikely to improve. The earthquake has already caused $84 billion in damage to the country and could mean a 2 percentage point loss in Turkey’s economic growth.

‘Erdogan can take advantage of this disaster’

But experts like Badi believe the president can bounce back. “The president could use the disaster as an opportunity for self-promotion and argue that the captain should not be changed while the ship is in the water.” He knows how to play this role of punishing people. And working-class populist voters loyal to President Erdogan may react to this. ”

But Dronsolo is skeptical about how far patriotic narrative can take him, saying, “Turkey faces uncontrollable inflation, a powerless state and the acquiescence of those in power to construction contractors. We are forced to do so,” he said.Erdogan and his MHP [nationalist far-right] Allies seem to be able to take advantage of the nationalist rise. Remember that opposition coalitions can also play that game. ”

Erdogan may be tempted to hold elections under a state of emergency, but hundreds of thousands of people in earthquake-hit areas are unable to get to polling stations or have lost their identity documents. I am doing He has already set up an electoral system that works in his favor. Cengiz Akhtar of the University of Athens lists a number of measures. He will appoint 11 pro-regime judges of the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) and other pro-Erdogan jurists as president of the Electoral Commission. The risk that candidates will be rejected at the last minute, leaving some constituencies without an opposition candidate. Procedures to ban HDP. and put on trial the president’s main rival, Istanbul’s CHP mayor Ekrem Imamoglu. Regarding counting the votes, Akhtar said: “The Electoral Commission is affiliated with Haversan, a company owned by the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation that specializes in defense and software. There is no possibility of appealing the Electoral Commission’s decision.” Stated.

This electoral infrastructure and the mobilization of security agencies (police and Islamic nationalist militias rather than the military) could help Erdoğan win re-election. But the three pillars of his political project — national credibility, active foreign policy, and economic success — were shaken by the earthquake. Erdogan’s Credibility Undermined, by Ariane Bonzon (Le Monde Diplomatic Office)

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