Erdogan faces political test after Turkey earthquake

Erdogan faces political test after Turkey earthquake

The devastating earthquake in Turkey poses a major test of governance for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is fighting for his political future just months before an election in May that could reshape the country.

After a bungled government response to the 1999 earthquake that left more than 17,000 people dead and a financial crisis two years later, Erdogan swept into power. He has ruled Turkish politics for the past two decades but his support has been weakened recently by sky-high inflation that has hurt his reputation as a capable, if controversial administrator.

Soner Cagaptay, who heads Turkey research at the Washington Institute, said that the earthquake could destroy the image of Erdogan as a powerful, autocratic, yet efficient leader. We have to wait to see if the disaster happens. It could play out depending on how it plays out. Erdogan, 68, faces a daunting task in the aftermath of Monday's earthquake, which was one of the deadliest and most destructive natural disasters this century. According to an estimate by the United States Geological Survey, damage could top $1 billion. Thousands are dead and the toll is rising.

He is facing a political challenge, as recent polls suggest that no one would win in the first round of presidential voting, and that either of two potential opposition candidates could beat Mr. Erdogan in a runoff, with survey margins ranging from single digits to more than 20 percentage points.

Turkish opponents and Western officials accuse Mr. Erdogan of pushing the country toward autocracy, largely because of the powers he granted himself since a narrow majority of voters passed a referendum in 2017 that expanded the role of the president.

He has declared a three-month state of emergency in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake, allowing for limitations on freedoms that could include curfews, travel bans and compulsory assignment for civil servants.

The move was immediate, given the steps Mr. Erdogan took in 2016 after a failed coup attempt against him. A nationwide state of emergency was originally supposed to last three months but was extended for a total of two years. More than 100,000 people were arrested and 150,000 people were purged from their jobs during the time.

Analysts think Tuesday s announcement is an understandable step in light of the scale of the quake's devastation. The three-month period would end shortly before the May 14 vote.

The opposition has so far refrained from criticizing the response to the earthquake, with all the political parties on Tuesday issuing a rare joint statement of unity in the face of the temblor.