The number of victims of the earthquake is increasing every day, and with it the anger towards Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for his not-so-fast response to the tragedy.

Some days have passed since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake caused thousands of deaths and injuries in southern Turkey and northern Syria. The damage in both countries has been enormous, and countless people have been left homeless. In Syria, the region which suffered the greatest damage is also the one that has been affected by the on-going civil war the most. In Turkey the death toll is extremely high (almost 45 thousand) and it might get higher; thousands of buildings have collapsed and, given how the government is handling the situation, what could also collapse soon is the actual policy of the country.

This is not the first time Turkey has had to face a tragedy like this. It is important to recall how the Marmara region was hit by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake in 1999, causing around 18 thousand deaths, and a higher number of injured. The response of then-President Bülent Ecevit was remarkably slow, and this probably led to Erdoğan's easier victory in the 2003 presidential elections. Today, almost twenty years later, Erdoğan's party fears the exact same.

On the one hand, the population learned of the government's lack of seriousness in handling the trillions of Turkish lira it had collected in recent years through a special „earthquake tax”, which had been introduced in the very aftermath of the Izmit earthquake. This money was supposed to be used to strengthen the country's infrastructure and response capabilities in case an emergency like this would arise, but clearly this has not been the case (and this despite the fact that infrastructure and development are considered highlights of the current President's policy). Moreover, Erdoğan had promised to rebuild the country – which he partly did – but with the greatest benefit going to businessmen close to his party. The rapid expansion of the country’s richest regions – with all its new bridges, malls, mosques and skyscrapers – seems now to have come at a cost. Even the budget of the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), the country's main rescue organisation, has been reduced by 33% in the 2023 national budget.

On the other hand, making matters worse was the 2018 decision to pass an amnesty legalising the status of thousands of illegally constructed buildings without proper documentation and inspections. Residents would only have to pay a „small“ fine – boosting that way the state coffers – and their homes would not be demolished. In a 2019 visit to Kahramanmaraş, the epicentre of the earthquake, Erdoğan had proudly declared that with the amnesty the government had „solved the problem“ of numerous citizens. It is important to specify, however, that for him the problem was not that citizens were living in precarious and badly constructed dwellings, but rather their inability to obtain ownership documents for buildings that had been labelled „illegal“. With a simple signature, these buildings were made safe, but the earthquake did not seem to agree.

Several days after the earthquake, Erdoğan even tried to justify himself by saying that it was a „fate’s plan“ and that it was in no way possible to predict a disaster like this, but this is not so true. Numerous scientists had in fact warned that a very strong earthquake could soon take place in the country. People only hoped it would have been managed better than last time. The government’s response was, in this case too, very late in arriving and poorly coordinated, Erdoğan himself did not show up in the affected regions until much later. On the contrary, civil society and numerous non-governmental organisations were present from the start, both committed to supporting those affected by the earthquake by providing basic necessities and assistance.

Given the circustamces one would say that this behaviour will undoubtedly have some consequences on the upcoming elections, which are scheduled to take place on 14 May. Though, with all that has happened, the current President's desire is to be able to postpone them – a move due not even on the inability to organise voting, but rather on Erdogan's hope of regaining the trust of his supporters. However, according to the constitution, the vote cannot be pushed back for more than a month. But we are talking about Erdogan here. We can only wait and see.