Turkey earthquake and elections

Turkey earthquake and elections

Famines, earthquakes and all other calamities can save or destroy political careers. 

Germany’s federal election had been scheduled for 22 September 2002 and Edmund Stoiber, the conservative candidate, was leading social democrat chancellor Gerhard Schroeder by ten points in polls. In mid August however, the country’s eastern state of Saxony suffered its worst flooding in more than a century. The natural disaster left several victims and caused extensive property damage in its wake. Stoiber decided not to interrupt his schedule to visit the flood-stricken city of Dresden. Schroeder, on the other hand, donned rubber boots and a raincoat on the ravaged shores of the Elbe and Mulde rivers to reassure the victims they will get the help they need to rebound. Forty days later, Schroeder won a second term.

As crews search for survivors among the rubble in southeastern Turkey, it is perhaps not the time to speak about the political reverberations of the massive earthquake. It is evident, however, that this enormous humanitarian disaster will not allow the Turkish opposition parties to engage in a head-on collision with incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they had planned. Everyone’s attention will be focused on the scores of the dead, the efforts to reach and rescue those trapped in the ruins of the collapsed buildings, and the campaign to heal the wounds on the day after.

The ball will be in Erdogan’s court. He may decide to postpone the May 14 elections or, alternatively, to showcase his leadership qualities in spearheading the national campaign to heal the wounds of the tragedy.

At times of despair, the people always turn to their political leaders to look for support and guidance – even more so in the case of Erdogan who has been at the helm of his country for 20 years.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s alienation from Europe and the US will also abate. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has already called Erdogan to pledge every possible assistance. Other leaders (from France’s Emmanuel Macron to America’s Joe Biden) that have in recent months targeted Erdogan will most certainly also change their attitude. Getting Turkey back on its feet is now the first priority.

Meanwhile, the risk of a heated incident in the Aegean ahead of elections on both sides of the Aegean is going away. However, the big problems between the two neighbors are here to stay.

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