Quake survivor kid carries a meal at tent city set up with the coordination of Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), after the powerful twin earthquakes on Feb. 6, in Hatay, Turkiye on February 19, 2023. On Feb. 06, a strong 7.7 earthquake, centered in the Pazarcik district, jolted Kahramanmaras and strongly shook several provinces, including Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Adana, Adiyaman, Malatya, Osmaniye, Hatay, and Kilis. Later, at 13.24 (1024GMT), a 7.6 magnitude quake centered in Kahramanmaras' Elbistan district struck the region. (Photo Credit: Murat Şengül / AA)

Turkish opposition fails to notice the thin line of politics

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to “rebuild all homes within one year,” the opposition responded by launching a public campaign against the election’s postponement.

The Turkish people are trying to heal the wounds of the twin earthquakes that took place on Feb. 6, 2023. Yet the opposition parties set their eyes on the upcoming elections.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to “rebuild all homes within one year,” the opposition responded by launching a public campaign against the election’s postponement.

In truth, what Erdoğan said amid relief efforts had nothing to do with postponing the election. That did not stop the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party (IP), the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) and the Future Party (GP) leaders from engaging in that debate without reservation.

In contrast, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) spokesperson Ömer Çelik refused to discuss the upcoming elections by saying, “We are focused on saving lives from the rubble (and) healing everyone’s wounds.” In other words, he signaled that the government’s priority was to manage the earthquake’s aftermath. Indeed, Erdoğan is expected to closely monitor Türkiye’s disaster-struck cities’ rebuilding.

Post-disaster management

The country faces an uphill battle in terms of post-disaster management. It is necessary to address the population’s pressing needs like housing, personal hygiene, working infrastructure and psychological support in winter conditions. However, the normalization process will take a full year and end with the construction of permanent housing units – which inevitably exceeds the time left until the next election. The opposition leaders now think that the government would rather postpone the election and complete the recovery by then. However, that assumption causes the opposition, which made plenty of mistakes since the twin earthquakes, to make additional missteps. Instead of healing people’s wounds through their various municipalities and explaining what must be done, they keep talking about the election’s timing.

Just two days after the devastating earthquakes, with search and rescue operations still underway, CHP Chairperson Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu made the following statement: “I refuse to look at what happened from above politics or side with the government. I won’t meet Erdoğan, his palace, or the rentier gangs on any ground.” Even some of his supporters took issue with those remarks, complaining that he violated the spirit of post-quake solidarity.

Elections’ timing

The timing of Türkiye’s next elections remains another vital issue. Despite what the opposition leaders have said, I believe the elections will take place on time. The Supreme Electoral Board, however, would have to work fast and make it possible for citizens in all 11 provinces the earthquakes affected to cast their votes. If necessary, the entire political establishment could work together for that purpose.

Still, the opposition remains stunned. Specifically, they do not know how to effectively address the “disaster of the century” that coincided with the 2023 election campaign. That’s why they immediately turned to the charge of “one-man rule” and claimed that Erdoğan represented the “disaster of the century” for Türkiye.

Failure in politics

The opposition cannot seem to notice the thin line between criticizing the government’s disaster management and being destructive. Kılıçdaroğlu said that the earthquakes were not “above politics,” and the remaining opposition leaders opposed the election’s postponement. Both statements hurt the opposition itself in the end. While the government focuses on healing the affected population’s wounds, the opposition leaders look more concerned with the election. At the same time, they make partisan accusations – a remnant of the time before the earthquakes. For some reason, the opposition leaders cannot grasp that they cease to represent an alternative to the ruling party by making such destructive statements. By contrast, the government does not have to respond to that. It is enough for the ruling party to do everything in its power to rebuild Turkish cities – just as it did during the pandemic. Today, the Turkish people expect concrete steps on the ground instead of gilded statements.

The opposition makes the mistake of politicking and undermines itself by building its post-disaster platform with a language and mindset that precedes the earthquakes.

[Daily Sabah, February 20 2023]

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