Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirms May 14 election date when the country will hold presidential and parliamentary elections, despite criticism of his government’s handling of the devastating earthquake that hit last month. The announcement sets the stage for a fierce battle between Erdogan and opposition parties, who have seized on rising discontent over the cost of living crisis and criticism of the government’s building regulations that contributed to the scale of the catastrophe.
The earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey and neighbouring Syria, has left around 1.25 million people homeless, according to the World Bank. In addition to the loss of life, the disaster caused some $34bn in damage to homes, hospitals, schools, and public infrastructure, highlighting the need for urgent reform.
Erdogan’s government has faced criticism for rules put in place ahead of the 2018 election that forgave shoddy building work, exacerbating the damage caused by the earthquake. The opposition has seized on rising discontent, with Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party, holding Erdogan responsible for the immense scale of the catastrophe.
A coalition of half a dozen opposition parties, known as the “table of six”, is due to meet on Thursday to choose a presidential candidate, although it is unclear whether they will announce their decision publicly. Kılıçdaroğlu is one of the leading contenders, along with Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, respectively.
There have been few public polls since the earthquake, but a person who had been briefed on a nationwide private survey said the disaster had so far had a relatively muted effect on opinion polls. The ruling AKP party had sagged in the polls for a long period in 2021 and 2022 as potential voters criticized the government’s economic policies, which economists say have exacerbated Turkey’s inflation problem.
Sentiment had started to improve late in 2022 after Erdogan unveiled a series of measures to address the cost of living crisis, including a rise in the minimum wage. However, according to private polling, the improvement has since petered out, suggesting a tight campaign ahead.
The election will be closely watched by Turkey’s neighbours and international partners, who will be looking for signs of political stability and a commitment to reform.
Image Credit: Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press