Middle East

Quake Will Not Delay Elections in Turkey, President Says

ADANA, Turkey — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made clear on Wednesday that he does not intend to delay crucial elections in Turkey because of last month’s devastating earthquake, saying they would go ahead as previously announced on May 14.

It was the first time the Turkish leader has publicly mentioned a polling date since the catastrophic quake on Feb. 6, which raised questions over whether he would seek to delay the presidential and parliamentary vote. The quake ravaged a large area of southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing more than 51,000 people so far. The number is rising daily.

“This nation — the time is coming on May 14 — will do what is necessary, God willing,” Mr. Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party. He had announced the same date before the quake hit.

The vast destruction caused by the 7.8-magnitude temblor and a powerful aftershock have posed a new political challenge for Mr. Erdogan, Turkey’s paramount politician for two decades, while drastically complicating the logistics of holding elections with so many communities in ruins.

Mr. Erdogan’s popularity had sagged over the last year because of a spike in inflation that ate into the budgets of Turkish families. And many quake survivors have criticized his government’s initial response to the country’s largest natural disaster in decades as slow and inadequate.

The president has acknowledged in recent days that the government’s initial response was lacking, while emphasizing the quake’s magnitude.

The election is critical to the political future of Mr. Erdogan, a towering political figure at home whose international profile has grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

He has frustrated other members of NATO by refusing to join Western sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the invasion and blocking the alliance’s expansion to include Sweden and Finland.

But Western officials acknowledge that his relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has yielded diplomatic benefits such as a deal to allow the export of Ukrainian grain.

Deadly Quake in Turkey and Syria

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Feb. 6, with its epicenter in Gaziantep, Turkey, has become one of the deadliest natural disasters of the century.

An election victory for Mr. Erdogan would give him a third presidential term, and a strong showing by his party would help him to keep pushing his policies through Parliament.

But it remains unclear how the earthquake and the government’s response have affected Mr. Erdogan’s standing with voters.

Emre Erdogan, a professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, said he did not expect the quake to drastically affect the roughly 40 percent of voters who support the president’s party.

“His electorate is conservative, with a strong belief in fate,” said Professor Erdogan, who is not related to the president. “They might rationalize any failure they witnessed, particularly with a fatalistic mind-set that disasters are inevitable.”

So far, Mr. Erdogan has not directly addressed accusations that the death toll was increased by poor construction enabled by the weak enforcement of building codes. The government has announced legal investigations of hundreds of building contractors, and some have been detained.

Now, the government must figure out how to hold a viable election in the wake of a disaster that wrecked more than 200,000 buildings and displaced millions of people. Exactly how that will work remains unclear.

In areas hit by the quake, many public buildings that would normally serve as polling places are damaged. Many voters have fled the quake zone for other parts of the country, making it hard for them to cast votes in their home districts.

Voter rolls will need to be updated to account for the dead and the large number of people who are still missing.

This week, a delegation from Turkey’s High Election Council, which oversees the vote, has been visiting quake-stricken areas to explore whether shipping containers can be used as polling places and how displaced people can cast ballots for their home districts, according to state-run news media.

Experts said that holding a viable election in such conditions was possible, but would take tremendous organization.

“If the current law and regulations are upheld, I don’t see a big problem in holding elections,” said Volkan Aslan, a lecturer in constitutional law at Istanbul University.

Names of the dead can be easily deleted from the voter rolls, he said. And photo ID checks and signatures at polling stations can help prevent fraud.

Legally, the vote must be held on or before June 18, but Mr. Erdogan can set an earlier date. His announcement on Wednesday did not begin the official process of setting the election in place, but he still has time to do that.

A coalition of six opposition parties has joined forces to try to unseat Mr. Erdogan, but they have yet to announce their candidate.

Critics have accused Mr. Erdogan of eroding state institutions and pushing Turkey toward authoritarianism. Signs have emerged in recent weeks that his government is seeking to quash dissent as the vote approaches.

Last weekend, fans of some of the country’s largest soccer clubs chanted antigovernment slogans during games, yelling “government, resign!” and “Lies, lies, lies! It’s been 20 years, resign!” One of Mr. Erdogan’s top political allies suggested that games be held without fans, and the supporters of one large club that joined the chants have been barred from attending a game scheduled for Saturday.

Mr. Erdogan’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, has deemed the chanting a security threat.

Ben Hubbard reported from Adana, Turkey, and Gulsin Harman from Istanbul.

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