President Tayyip Erdogan indicated on Wednesday that elections will be held on May 14, sticking to his previous plan for the vote with a date just over three months after a devastating earthquake killed more than 45,000 people in Turkey.
“This nation will do what is necessary on May 14, God willing,” Erdogan said in a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party in parliament, in an apparent reference to elections seen as representing his biggest ever political challenge.
There had been conflicting signals over the likely timing of the presidential and parliamentary elections since last month’s earthquake, with some suggesting they could be postponed until later in the year or could be held as scheduled on June 18.
Before the disaster, Erdogan’s popularity had been eroded in recent years by soaring inflation and a slump in the lira which hit living standards, although some opinion polls in recent months had shown signs of a pick-up in his support.
Erdogan has faced a wave of criticism over his government’s handling of the deadliest quake in the nation’s modern history. But he defended Ankara’s response on Wednesday, saying it had been caught up in “a storm of earthquakes”.
“We will build better buildings in place of those which collapsed. We will win hearts and we will unroll a new future in front of our people,” he said in a speech accompanied by a video showing all the state had done in response to the disaster.
Erdogan, aiming to extend his rule into a third decade, had previously said he was bringing the votes forward to May to avoid holidays in June.
Doubts have been expressed over election authorities’ ability to make logistical arrangements for those affected in the quake zone, home to some 14 million people, to vote. Election officials are visiting the region this week to prepare a report on its preparedness.
Erdogan rose to power 20 years ago as Turkey grappled with a severe economic crisis in 2001 and chronic corruption that crippled institutions. The coalition of that time had faced accusations of mishandling a devastating 1999 earthquake.
Now he also must contend with criticism over the response to the quake in a region that traditionally backed him. He took 55% of the vote in the 10 quake hit-provinces in a 2018 presidential election and his party and its partners won the same level of support in a parliamentary election.
Some Turks in one of the areas worst hit by the quake voiced disappointment on Wednesday at the state response to the disaster, which they said had a negative impact on people’s views of the government.
“Everyone here votes for the AKP instinctively. But help arrived here very late. People are having second thoughts,” said a market owner in the town of Narli, 20 km (12 miles) from the first quake’s epicentre.
“I don’t believe the opposition is up to the task either. But we need fundamental change,” said 70-year-old farmer Mehmet from the village of Igdeli.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD) said the death toll in Turkey had risen to 45,089, bringing the total toll including Syria to about 51,000. The quake also injured 108,000 people in Turkey.
Ankara faces a huge challenge in repairing the immense destruction caused by the earthquake and subsequent powerful tremors, which left millions sheltering in tents or seeking to move to other cities.
Erdogan has pledged to rebuild homes within a year but it will be many months before thousands can swap tents or containers and queues for food handouts for permanent housing.
He said on Wednesday that more than 200,000 buildings had been destroyed or seriously damaged in the quakes. Some two million people were registered as having fled the region, which has been hit by more than 11,000 aftershocks, AFAD said.