Turkey quake victims in favor of Erdogan in the second round of elections

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stares at the ruins of Antakya from the election billboard overlooking the city, his gaze comforting Ahmet Gulyildizoglu ahead of Sunday’s presidential runoff election.

In Turkey’s southern provinces, ravaged by the February 6 earthquake that left at least 50,000 dead, millions of voters preferred to bet on the veteran leader, who has been in power for 20 years and narrowly missed being re-elected in the first round on May 14.

Compared to Erdogan, his rival, the secular social democrat Kemal Kiliçdaroglu “does not fill you with hope”, explains Ahmet Gulyildizoglu, standing in front of a wasteland where there used to be a six-story building.

“Next door, you have an alliance that keeps its promises,” he insists, alluding to President Erdogan’s AKP party (Islamoconservative), allied with several far-right formations.

Erdogan’s ability to remain strong in the disaster areas, despite the delay of rescue services after the earthquake and the collapse of thousands of buildings with their occupants inside, contributed to Kiliçdaroglu’s disappointing result in the first round. The center-left candidate, with 44.9% of the vote, was almost five points behind the head of state (49.5%).

But unlike in the first round, Erdogan is now the favorite in the second round, scheduled for Sunday.

The anger expressed by the population after the earthquake forced the head of state to make a public apology, a rare occurrence.

For Berk Esen, professor of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul, this result is not “very surprising”, given that most of the affected provinces traditionally vote for the president.

According to the researcher, the residents of these areas accepted that the catastrophe was the result of “fate”, as Erdogan said, without stopping to think about the non-compliance with anti-seismic regulations.

Moreover, he notes, “the opposition did not conduct an intensive campaign in the region nor was it able to put forward any credible alternative message.”

Kiliçdaroglu’s Anti-Refugee Stance Resonates in Turkey’s Border Cities

Faced with the possibility of defeat, Kiliçdaroglu, 74, changed course. He dropped his promises of appeasement and adopted a vehement tone, pledging to expel the millions of Syrian refugees “as soon as he wins.”

A message that struck a chord in cities bordering Syria, such as Antakya, also known as Antioch, which was filled with Kiliçdaroglu posters stating that “Syrians will leave.”

“We will not transform Turkey into a migrant depot,” the opposition leader launched on Tuesday in that city.

A radical speech that managed to convince 20-year-old Mehmet Aynaci. “Before the earthquake, if you were looking for an apartment you always came across a lot of Syrians,” he comments.

“Of course, they have to leave,” abounds Atilla Celtik, who also did not leave his city, today almost deserted. “Soon they will reclaim our land,” she predicts. “We are worried.”

Critical Votes: Displaced People’s Role in Shaping the Election Outcome

The province of Hatay, which is home to some very liberal districts, gave a slight lead to Kiliçdaroglu in the first round.

But an eventual victory for the opposition candidate will depend in part on how many displaced people, now settled far from the disaster zone, make the trip to vote a second time on Sunday.

About 1.7 million displaced people have kept their registration on the electoral lists of the affected provinces.

For Sema Sicek, still very angry with Erdogan over the thousands of people who died slowly under the rubble, it is absolutely necessary for the displaced to return to vote.

“Come on foot if necessary but do not abandon your land”, launches the man, 65, accusing Erdogan of “burying alive” the Turks.

Promises of Reconstruction: Competing Visions for Turkey’s Affected Regions

Erdogan managed to win the vote of voters in the affected regions by promising them new houses by the beginning of next year, or “maybe a little later” in the case of Antakya.

Kiliçdaroglu tried to do the same on Tuesday, claiming that “no one should doubt” his ability to rebuild the region.

Hakan Tiryaki, provincial head of Kiliçdaroglu’s party, the CHP, denies that the opposition did not make itself heard in the region before the return, as some critical voices claim.

According to him, if they had campaigned with great fanfare, they would have given the impression that the opposition was seeking to take advantage of the people’s pain.

Nor would that have been enough to change the mind of Omer Edip Aslantas, who used to vote for the left but now, at 51, believes that “the Turkish left is no longer the same.” “It has become anti-Turkish, anti-Muslim.”

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