The Guardian: Erdogan’s political future rests on his response to the earthquakes

The Guardian: Erdogan’s political future rests on his response to the earthquakes
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British newspaper The Guardian published an article titled, “Turkey earthquake death toll suggests lessons of 1999 were not learned.” The analysis emphasizes that the earthquake impacting millions will determine Erdogan’s political future.

The death toll in the earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 37,000 people. This figure is more than double the number of lives lost during the 1999 Golcuk earthquake that left its mark on Turkish memory.

Following the 1999 disaster, the Turkish government had instituted new taxes, widely known as “the earthquake tax.” The Guardian’s Middle East correspondent Bethan McKernan writes that the Justice and Development Party (AKP), had come to power in 2002 based on promises of stricter regulations for construction and earthquake preparedness.

McKernan writes that in subsequent earthquakes, such as in the 2011 quake that hit the province of Van, then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan found fault with poor construction with regard to the number of fatalities. At the time, Erdogan had said, “Municipalities, constructors, and supervisors should now see that their negligence amounts to murder.”

According to McKernan, that same ethos is not represented in the AKP government’s response to last week’s tragedy. The author notes that surrounded by buildings leveled to the ground, Turkish citizens are questioning how the government has used the approximately three billion dollars generated by the earthquake tax since 1999, with no clear answers offered by authorities.

McKernan says, “It is becoming clearer that endemic corruption and lax enforcement of building codes have exacerbated the crisis.” In this regard, he points to the fact that though the government has arrested 113 people it suspects of negligent construction, it has also provided repeated construction amnesties that waive safety certifications for companies and building owners. The amnesties were a policy that created a considerable amount of income for the state.

Professor Ovgun Ahmet Ercan is quoted in the article, saying, “I have been dealing with earthquakes for 53 years but never experienced such a disaster before. It is true that we were not expecting an earthquake of this scale, in this area, so it was unforeseen in that respect. But it is also clear that most of the destruction is a result of human failures.”

As Turkish citizens question the efficiency of the AKP government’s disaster response, McKernan remarks that the fate of the increasingly authoritarian AKP rule of 20 years, and thus President Erdogan’s political future rests “on how he handles the fallout.”