Earthquake victims in Turkey are divided ahead of national elections

Hatice Onlen brings her laundry next to tents where she and her family temporarily live after a powerful earthquake in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Hatice Onlen brings her laundry next to tents where she and her family temporarily live after a powerful earthquake in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Copyright AP Photo
By Euronews with AP
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The elections are taking place just three months after the 7.8-magnitude earthquakes struck southern Turkey, killing more than 50,000 people and leaving millions of others homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has served as the country's prime minister and then-president since 2003 is facing the toughest election of his career. 

His government has been accused of setting the stage for the earthquake's catastrophic death toll and damage with lax building code enforcement.  

Many in the quake region said the emergency response to the disaster was painfully slow.

Erdogan has centred his reelection campaign on rebuilding the quake zone. He has pledged to build 319,000 homes before the end of the year and has tried to convince voters that only he can guide Turkey through a successful recovery.

Residents in Turkey's worst-hit city, Antakya, are still trying to get back on their feet. Of the estimated three million people that have left the quake zone, only 133,000 have registered to vote at their new locations, officials said.

Political parties and non-governmental organisations plan to bus voters back to their hometowns to allow them to vote, which is no easy task.

AP Photo
A general view of destroyed or severally damaged buildings after a powerful earthquake in Antakya, southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, May 10, 2023.AP Photo

Mehmet, a shop owner in Antakya, who has been trying to revive his business at the bazaar in the city centre told Euronews Serbia he is not interested in the upcoming elections.

"We survive as best we can, the government helps but it's not enough," he said.

"I'm not in a tent city, there's a leak, I live in my van and I'm waiting for a dumpster."

Emina, who runs a cafe, was more fortunate than others as her house was in the old part of the city and was less damaged. 

"Voting is my right, I will use it. The people who run the country are doing a very good job. Why should I vote for others, I will vote for Erdogan," she said.

Many people now live in so-called tent cities or containers provided by the state. Some bought the tents themselves and live outside the state camps. 

"If it wasn't for my friend, I wouldn't have been able to go out, I was in pyjamas for four days and my relatives from Adana sent us food," Antakya resident Sadet Guven said.

"I just want a home or a container. Blame the government or not, it is clear that they did not help us. people are homeless. Nobody asks us anything. I will vote for Kılıçdaroğlu, let's give him a chance."

Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
People walk next to billboards of Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Turkish CHP party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in Istanbul, Turkey, Thursday, May 11, 2023.Khalil Hamra/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.

As well as focusing on the effects of the earthquake, the opposition, led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has campaigned on domestic issues such as rampant inflation, Erdogan's increasingly autocratic leadership and civil rights.

Those who spend their days helping people living in tents or containers said the divide was widening.

"After the earthquake in February, this is the most damaged city, according to our research, the wrong choices of the government will affect the vote," aid worker Mursel Četin said. 

"For 21 years of AKP rule, people have been divided, it's even worse now before the elections."

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Residents who have remained in Antakya will vote at schools serving as polling stations in deserted neighbourhoods, Akin Parlakyildiz, a local opposition party official said.

While the ruling party promises houses in a year, which will have a long repayment term, the opposition is proposing that they get them for free. The headquarters of political parties have been moved to containers, and those for voting will also be delivered.

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