Erdogan indicates that the elections in Turkey will be in May, three months after the earthquake

  • The earthquake three weeks ago had cast doubt on the timing of the election
  • The government criticizes the response to the disaster
  • Erdogan faces major challenges as economic problems erode his popularity
  • He promises to “win hearts”, with the rapid rebuilding of better homes

ANKARA/PAZARCIK, Turkey, March 1 (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan indicated on Wednesday that elections will be held on May 14, sticking to his earlier plan for the vote with a date just over three months after a devastating earthquake killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey.

“This nation will do what is necessary on May 14, God willing,” Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party in parliament, in an apparent reference to elections seen as representing his biggest-ever political challenge .

There had been conflicting signals about the likely timing of the presidential and parliamentary elections since last month’s earthquake, with some suggesting they could be postponed until later in the year or could be held as planned on June 18.

Before the disaster, Erdogan’s popularity had been eroded in recent years by soaring inflation and a decline in the lira that hit living standards, although some polls in recent months had shown signs of an increase in his support.

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Erdogan has faced a wave of criticism over his government’s handling of the deadliest quake in the nation’s modern history. But he defended Ankara’s response on Wednesday, saying it had been caught up in “a storm of earthquakes”.

“We will build better buildings instead of those that collapsed. We will win hearts and we will roll out a new future in front of our people,” he said in a speech accompanied by a video showing all the state had done in response to disaster.

Erdogan, who aimed to extend his rule into a third decade, had previously said he was bringing the vote up to May to avoid June holidays.

Doubts have been expressed about the electoral authorities’ ability to make logistical arrangements so that those affected in the earthquake zone, home to around 14 million people, can vote. Election officials are visiting the region this week to prepare a report on preparedness.


Erdogan came to power 20 years ago as Turkey struggled with a severe economic crisis in 2001 and chronic corruption that crippled its institutions. The coalition at the time had been accused of mishandling a devastating earthquake in 1999.

Now he also has to contend with criticism over the response to the earthquake in a region that traditionally supported him. He took 55% of the vote in the 10 earthquake-hit provinces in a 2018 presidential election, and his party and its partners won the same level of support in a parliamentary election.

Some Turks in one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake on Wednesday expressed disappointment with the state’s response to the disaster, which they said had a negative impact on people’s view of the government.

“Everybody here votes for the AKP instinctively. But help came here very late. People are having second thoughts,” said a market owner in the town of Narli, 20 km (12 miles) from the epicenter of the first quake.

“I don’t think the opposition is up to the task either. But we need fundamental change,” said 70-year-old farmer Mehmet from the village of Igdeli.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said the death toll in Turkey had risen to 45,089, bringing the total including Syria to around 51,000. The earthquake also injured 108,000 people in Turkey.

Ankara faces a major challenge in repairing the massive destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent strong tremors, which left millions sheltering in tents or trying to move to other cities.

Erdogan has promised to rebuild housing within a year, but it will be many months before thousands can exchange tents or containers and queues for food handouts for permanent housing.

He said on Wednesday that more than 200,000 buildings had been destroyed or seriously damaged in the quakes. About two million people were recorded fleeing the region, which has been hit by more than 11,000 aftershocks, AFAD said.

Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu and Huseyin Hayatsever in Ankara, Can Sezer and Jonathan Spicer in Pazarcik, Ali Kucukgocmen, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Written by Daren Butler; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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