The Mercury News

Erdogan says earthquake will not delay the elections

- By Ben Hubbard and Gulsin Harman

ADANA, TURKEY >> President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear Wednesday that he does not intend to delay crucial elections in Turkey because of last month's devastatin­g earthquake, saying they would go ahead as previously announced on May 14.

It was the first time the Turkish leader has publicly mentioned a polling date since the catastroph­ic quake Feb. 6, which raised questions over whether he would seek to delay the presidenti­al and parliament­ary vote. The quake ravaged a large area of southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 51,000 people so far. The number is rising daily.

“This nation — the time is coming on May 14 — will do what is necessary, God willing,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Developmen­t Party. He had announced the same date before the quake hit.

The vast destructio­n caused by the 7.8 magnitude temblor and a powerful aftershock have posed a new political challenge for Erdogan, Turkey's paramount politician for two decades, while drasticall­y complicati­ng the logistics of holding elections with so many communitie­s in ruins.

Erdogan's popularity had sagged over the past year because of a spike in inflation that ate into the budgets of Turkish families. And many quake survivors have criticized his government's initial response to the country's largest natural disaster in decades as slow and inadequate.

The president has acknowledg­ed in recent days that the government's initial response was lacking, while emphasizin­g the quake's magnitude.

The election is critical to the political future of Erdogan, a towering political figure at home whose internatio­nal profile has grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

He has frustrated other members of NATO by refusing to join Western sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the invasion and blocking the alliance's expansion to include Sweden and Finland.

But Western officials acknowledg­e that his relationsh­ip with President Vladimir Putin of Russia has yielded diplomatic benefits such as a deal to allow the export of Ukrainian grain.

An election victory for Erdogan would give him a third presidenti­al term, and a strong showing by his party would help him to keep pushing his policies through parliament.

But it remains unclear how the earthquake and the government's response have affected Erdogan's standing with voters.

Emre Erdogan, a professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, said he did not expect the quake to drasticall­y affect the roughly 40% of voters who support the president's party.

“His electorate is conservati­ve, with a strong belief in fate,” said Erdogan, who is not related to the president. “They might rationaliz­e any failure they witnessed, particular­ly with a fatalistic mindset that disasters are inevitable.”

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