The earthquakes foiled Erdogan’s election strategy: What happens now?
The February 6 earthquake did not only cause thousands of our people to be left homeless, injured, or lost under the rubble of collapsed cities. It also led to the one-man regime of the Palace to be crushed by the wreckage of the catastrophe. This happened not at any ordinary time, but right as the parliamentary and presidential elections were upcoming.
Of course, it is not particularly humane to bring up the matter of the “the disaster of the century’s impact on the election” when the pain of the tens of thousands of souls lost in the earthquakes and the suffering of lives which continue to be rescued from the rubble is so fresh.
Despite the fact that we have lost tens of thousands of our people to the disaster and while survivors are still being pulled from the wreckage, only one question keeps occupies the regime’s mind, “If we allow the election to proceed without assuaging the anger of the electorate following the scandals we caused during the earthquake, will we lose the government?”
They are unable to mask this election anxiety despite their best efforts.
The argument started first with “the Chief’s Trojan horses.” Putting on the pretense of righteousness, they proposed that the elections be postponed by six months to a year, perhaps even to be concurrent with the local elections to take place in 2024.
For the sake of strategy, neither the Palace’s nor the People’s Alliance’s official spokespeople have broached this matter. They are bending over backwards to ensure that the image of “Erdogan is avoiding the election” does not take hold. But when one reads between the lines of their statements, the undeniable truth that all their preparations are made on the premise that the elections will be postponed for a year emerges.
When we divide the current moment into two as “pre-earthquake” and “post-earthquake,” the following picture emerges.
The truth was conspicuous even before the earthquake. All objective polling data showed that the Palace regime was set to lose the presidential and parliamentary elections to take place on either May 14 or June 18.
I had last made an argument for this case in the article titled, “Are we heading towards a bloody election again?” which was published by Gercek News two weeks ago.
ERDOGAN HAS LOST, BUT THE OPPOSITION HAS NOT YET WON
“There is a reality that we see clear as day during this time; all objective data show that Erdogan is losing the presidential election to a degree that cannot simply be brushed off.
One does not need to pore over detailed polls to see this truth. Even a simple comparison is enough to show why Erdogan has already lost.
Erdogan had won the first presidential term of the Presidential Government System with 52.5 percent of the votes. That is, Erdogan surpassed the 50+1 threshold with, all in all, 2.5 percent.
In June 2018 when he was elected, inflation was under 20 percent whereas the dollar and euro were at the rate of four or five liras.
In the less than five years since, with the base effect, and even with the data from the Turkish Statistical Institute, inflation rates have reached 70 percent.
The dollar and euro, which were at four to five liras, are now at 20 lira, and even surpassing that.
There is no need to list the rest; this data, which evidences a significant economic collapse, will have lost Erdogan much more than a 2.5 percent share of the votes.
Research results are already confirming this finding. No research company, whether it be pro or anti-government, shows Erdogan polling above 50+1 percent.
It is impossible to find any reputable election poll with all election factors considered show an Erdogan or People’s Alliance victory taking more than 50 percent of the votes.
From this point of view, and according to all objective indicators that are available to us today, it is certain that Erdogan and the People’s Alliance have lost this election.
Yet no one should allow this assessment to mislead them. Yes, Erdogan may have lost the election, but that does not mean the opposition has won it.”
EARTHQUAKE FOILS ERDOGAN’S STRATEGY
This was our assessment prior to the earthquake. When the negativities experienced after the earthquake, the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of our people, the tens of thousands of people who passed away screaming to be heard or freezing in the cold under the rubble, and the obstacles created by the "strong state" of the "one-man regime" which failed to appear in the earthquake zone for days are added to the already bleak picture of the Palace regime, one can already predict the outcome of the election. We do not have to be prophets to see that it will be a giant fiasco for the People's Alliance.
The Palace regime has also clearly observed that their loss of votes has been exacerbated by the earthquake, and that the anger towards their government is intensifying.
Based on their statements in the early days following the earthquake, we can assume that Erdogan plans to postpone the May 14 or June 18 elections by at least a year, to construct and deliver roughly 30,000 buildings, to mollify the public, and to remedy the hits the regime has taken in that time.
He gave voice to this strategy for the first time when visiting Osmaniye in the earthquake zone on the fourth day following the disaster. As though an election was not set to happen or as if he would without a doubt win the election to occur in a few months, Erdogan asked the survivors to give him one year:
“In one year, we will rebuild and deliver to you the buildings that collapsed in the earthquake.”
One of the first to voice the rhetoric of "fate" in Erdogan's approach was Democrat Party Chairman Gultekin Uysal from the Nation Alliance:
"What we understand from Erdogan's promise of 'give me a year' is probably that he will combine the June 18, 2023 election with the local elections by using the Supreme Election Council on the grounds that 'voter registries could not be prepared due to impossibilities.’ — because all the populist narratives pushed for the election have been foiled.”
Afterwards, some of the unofficial spokesmen of the Palace regime, such as Bulent Arinc, said, “There is not enough time to have the elections on June 18. They must be postponed for at least six months to a year.”
Of course, the official spokespersons of Erdogan and his Palace cannot express such a demand openly, to avoid rumors of, "They feared the election results, so they are running away.” Clearly, they will shift the task of postponing the election to the Supreme Election Council.
The Palace regime, which had lost votes for a myriad of reasons and was already facing the reality of losing the elections before the earthquakes, was mortally wounded in the February 6 earthquake, especially due to the great disappointment it caused among the citizens who supported them.
HOW MANY DAYS LEFT UNTIL WHICH ELECTION?
As of today, there are 13 Sundays or 87 days until an election to take place on May 14. In the event that the election happens on June 18, there are 18 Sundays or 122 days remaining.
It is not that simple for the Palace regime to win the public’s forgiveness in this narrow time frame or to regain the voters that have turned their backs to them. Besides, their existing resources continue to dwindle as they are being used within the framework of a plan made for an “election economy.”
Perhaps due to this reason, Erdogan insists on postponing the elections by at least a year and to increase his chances of winning by alleviating some of the pain created.
Perhaps it is within the framework of this plan that Erdogan asked for "one year" at least three times in his speech after the Ministerial Meeting held on the ninth day (February 14, 2023) following the earthquake.
First, he said, “Our aim is to solve the housing construction issue in the earthquake zone within a year,” and then added:
“As of the beginning of March, we are starting the construction of 30 thousand houses immediately. Our aim is to complete the construction of high quality and safe buildings in one year to solve the need for housing in the entire earthquake zone”
Then he repeated the sentence "I want our citizens in the earthquake zone to be bear with us for a year.”
Erdogan does not talk as if there will be an election in three or four months; in fact, he speaks as if there will be no elections at all, because the hope of winning the election, even if it was just a small crumb, was destroyed by the February 6 earthquake, just like the buildings demolished by the fault lines.
They no longer have the face to go out and say, "If anyone can do it, it is the AK Party,” or "No Stopping, Keep Going.” They are afraid to even imagine the reaction they will get after so much suffering.
While visiting the earthquake area, their biggest fear was the potential reaction by grieving citizens who had been hurt or had lost their loved ones. This fear was the reason they slowed the bandwidth of Twitter, which had become a means for citizens to communicate with each other and to report the state of those under the rubble.
Republican People’s Party Chairman Kilicdaroglu must have predicted the wish to postpone the elections for at least one year, because while addressing Erdogan through his social media account, he presented the impasse the Palace government finds itself at:
“This country gave you 20 years. It witnessed a coup because of you. You made it dependent for 5 masks during covid. Our forests burned; you couldn't find a plane. You crashed the economy. We were destroyed in the earthquake. You were always incompetent. We don't have 1 day, let alone a year to give you. We can't take any more incompetence. Don't be afraid of the election… Or be afraid, the election will be held on time.”
At this point, the Palace regime’s fear of "losing an election" prevents it from focusing on mitigating the earthquake disaster.
The Palace regime is making its plans based on postponing the elections for one year and getting the consent of a significant part of the voters who broke away from it during this period.
Up until ten days ago, we had been discussing the change of the election date from June 18 to May 14 upon the request of Erdogan and Bahceli. Erdogan had already chosen the election slogan: Enough! The Say Belongs to the People.
But after the earthquake, the one-man regime no longer has the strength to hold elections. Yes, when the ballot box is set up, the words "Enough! The Say Belongs to the People,” will hold true; but under current conditions, the nation will not speak well for the Palace Regime at the ballot box.
Turkey is resting on a razor’s edge.
Either this faulty democracy will turn into a healthy democracy through elections, or a "perfect" dictatorship will emerge from this rotting system.
Selahattin Demirtas also drew attention to this crossroads he could see all the way from Edirne on his social media account:
“According to the information received, while everyone was focused on the disaster, a group of lawyers have been instructed to work on postponing the elections.
Once again, they are preparing to ignore the Constitution by presenting it as a fait accompli.
According to Article 78 of the Constitution, elections can only be postponed by the Parliament and by an officially declared state of war. There is no exception to this.
Ignoring the Parliament and deciding to postpone the elections clearly amounts to a political coup.
If the elections are postponed even once, despite this being a constitutional crime, a path will have been paved, and no one can again make the Supreme Election Council declare an election again.
An earthquake is a disaster, not a ‘gift from God' for a transition to dictatorship.
The public will not allow this, period.”
After the earthquake, the Palace government had launched an exceptional communications attack and perception management operation using the Directorate of Communications.
Erdogan's characterization of the earthquake as “fate" aimed to evade culpability by shifting blame for the disaster onto divine powers instead of the Palace’s power; but it did not work. More precisely, no one fell for this claim of "fate.”
The Directorate of Communications attempted to sell an ingenious conception of the earthquake as the "disaster of the century" to imply that the destruction caused was to be expected and unavoidable, yet it found no buyers.
Yes, the "disaster of the century" befell the Republic of Turkey, which had just completed its first century of life, but that disaster most definitely was not the February 6 earthquake.
There is a "disaster of the century" that has emerged from the "fate" designed by the Palace regime. That disaster is Erdogan’s “election anxiety.”
*Celal Baslangic: He was born in 1956 in Istanbul. He began a career in journalism at Ekspres in 1975. He graduated from Ege University, School of Journalism and Public Relations in 1978. He worked as a reporter, intelligence chief, regional representative, policy service chief, and editor-in-chief at the newspapers Demokrat İzmir and Politics and Cumhuriyet. In 1995, he was appointed as the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Evrensel Newspaper. He conducted the "Time, Space and Human" interviews at Radikal for more than 10 years. He became the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Beyoglu Newspaper in 2002. In 2011, he was a Member of the Founding Broadcasting Board of IMC TV. He worked as a columnist for T24, Haberdar, and Gazete Duvar news sites. In 2017, he was the Founding Editor-in-Chief of Arti TV and Arti Gercek.