A little bit more than two months after what have been recorded as one-after-another 7.9 and 7.7 magnitude worst Turkey-Syria earthquakes in a century, could victims who survived in eleven hard-hit Turkish provinces yet be in for another disaster? This time around, from the perspective of upcoming parliamentary and presidential polls, taking place hardly a month away? That is the question. Call it ‘politiquake’ disaster if you like. The natural quakes killed more than 50,000 people, displacing more than three million others, some of whom have re-located in Ankara, Istanbul and Mersin, and are looking forward to take place in the-make or break-it ballot compounded by homemade political circumstances on the ground.
The May 14 polls will be held when memories of late-coming rescuers and relief workers, constituting the ‘Turquake’ component, are still fresh in people’s minds. The angered members of the public are still demanding a chance for venting the ire through the ballot box. But are officials of the Erdogan regime and ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party ready for this to happen? Definitely not. So, could the relatively impossible-to-meet April 2 re-registration in new locations deadline set by the Turkey’s Supreme Board of Election (YSK) constitute part of a ‘Politiquake’ stage of aplan to suppress the protest vote?
Media reports have quoted a Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy representing Kahramanmaras, Ali Oztunc, as saying about half of the residents had left and only 50,000 of the registered 820,000 voters were able to change their registration. On his part, CHP Vice-President Onursal Adiguzel has openly accused officials of trying to limit the turnout of displaced persons. One victim claimed to have been discouraged by the officials from changing a registration centre because he would lose his right to public aid for earthquake victims. What a service to expect from a public servant. Worse still, that victim said he did not know how he would be able to go there and vote. He is not sure of getting this very basic citizen’s right. This must be a product of a ‘politiquake’ calculation.
A forty-five-year-old who managed to register to vote in Ankara was quoted as saying that most of his friends will have to return to Antakya, a ghost town where just a tiny fraction of the buildings has survived. He thinks “free elections are impossible under such conditions. But there is no other choice. We have already lost a lot with the earthquakes. Losing the expression of our free will would be another disaster.”
On her part, a mother of two daughters (34) said she was determined to return to Antakya on election day – “even if it meant sleeping in a tent. It’s about my future. I will vote no matter what.” There are also reports of those who feel that a return to the province would give them a chance to monitor and report any irregularities.
Towards the end of the third week of March, on 18th to be exact, Turkey’s Vice-President Fuat Oktay was reported to have said that out of the nearly two million people displaced by the massive earthquakes, only 345,977 had changed their addresses to become voters in their resettled districts. The Human Rights Foundation (HIHV) of Turkey rightly commented that the ratio did not represent a fair vision of the state of affairs. This reflects a 12.5% performance level, which is not an impressive but shameful for the Turkey’s Supreme Board of Election (YSK). Short of having an ultra-motive behind, this can only indicate lack of seriousness about or incompetence in managing such a vital exercise deciding the fate of a nation. Doesn’t the YSK have the capacity to understand or is just ignoring the words of the mother who said: “It (the election) is about my future”? Whose future is the YSK concerned with? Erdogan’s and that of the others can go hang?
YSK President Ahmet Yener has announced that a total of 64,113, 941people, including Turkey expatriates will vote. There are 60,697.843 voters in Turkey. More than 30 million of them are women while first time voters number 4,904,672. In the wake of domestic women rights issues and the state of a badly managed economy, the voice of this segment of the electorate cannot be safely ignored by anyone in the run for being re-elected or ‘hidden’ in the clouds by the overseer.
YSK knows where every one of these and other voters who survived the quakes and are not on the missing list are. YSK should follow them and get their will on who should rule them in the next phase government. There have been attempts to interest the opposition to provide transport for quake victims to allow them go back to their registration districts. This is impossible. Take the example of Kahramanmaras, Ali Oztunc. While about half of the residents are said to have left, only 50,000 of the registered 820,000 voters were able to change their registration. Where does one get buses for 770,000 passengers in one operation? Even if half of the voters remained behind, what an impossible task would that involve? YSK should not hide itself behind the rules. It is duty bound to interpret and put them in action for the benefit of the people of Turkey.
This is the time for President Ahmet Yener to demonstrate his worth to Turkey rather than Erdogan and the AKP. He must avoid being condemned by history. Turkey has been through enough of the natural earthquake. It has also been subject to the ‘Turquake’ due to government slow response. The pending ‘Politiquake’ disaster is in his hands – to prevent or create. The quake hit region was home to some 15 million people, two million of whom are expected to have migrated. If Ahmet Yener wants to retain credibility, particularly in the most likely Turkey without Erdogan, he must facilitate all displaced people to vote from where they are. He should not give room to ‘Politiquake’ disaster in Turkey.