Demir now lives with his two teenage daughters near their old home in a container city – made up of prefabricated housing units resembling shipping containers – and said he will not vote for Erdogan, although he was concerned about the government’s slow response in the wake of the earthquakes apologized for his promise to build hundreds of thousands of new homes in the hardest-hit areas.
Elsewhere, Ferdi Baran, whose home in Hatay was reduced to rubble within seconds, said he felt “distanced” from all the candidates but leaned towards Erdogan.
“I take offense at the government for not being able to intervene effectively after the earthquake,” said Beran, 40, a furniture maker who now lives with his wife Sevsem and two children in a tent city near their old home.
He also said he was offended by the opposition, which “didn’t really do anything except make propaganda against the government”.
But he said Erdogan and his ruling AK party may be able to repair and rebuild areas hit by the earthquakes faster than a coalition of ruling parties.
Outside of Türkiye, the result will be followed with interest. The opposition alliance has signaled it will seek to rebuild ties with the United States, the European Union and NATO. Erdogan’s government has blocked Sweden’s accession to NATO. So if he loses, this veto could end.
Inside the country, Erdogan is likely to count on the support of Turkey’s Syrian population, which numbers 3.7 million, making it the largest refugee community in the world.
After being welcomed to their country fleeing civil war – now in their twelfth year – calls have been revived for the Syrian refugees to return home amid the lack of housing and shelter following the earthquake.
Both presidential candidates running against Erdogan have promised to send them back. Ogan, who is backed by an anti-migrant party, said he would “use force if necessary” while Kilicdaroglu said he would repatriate them on a voluntary basis.
Erdogan barely mentioned the issue of migration during the election campaign. But faced with a spate of anti-refugee backlash, his government looked at ways to relocate Syrians.
Nasir Muhammad said he “didn’t want to think about what would happen” if Erdogan lost because although he was granted Turkish citizenship six years ago, some people still thought of him as a Syrian refugee.
“My Turkish neighbor told me I had to pack my bags and prepare to leave if Erdogan lost the election,” Muhammad, 51, said Thursday at the hair salon he founded in the southern city of Mersin.
Marwan al-Hassan, who opened a car dealership in Istanbul after his home and shop in Hatay were destroyed by the earthquakes, said he cannot return to Syria “because my life and that of my children are at risk there”. Hassan, 45, said President Bashar al-Assad’s regime would kill him if he returned. In the worst case, he will try to go to Europe, he said.
While there has been “a rising nationalist, anti-immigrant wave across the board,” according to Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a lecturer in Middle East politics at SOAS University of London, the economy in Turkey, where inflation hit over 85% last year rose, very high “the most important reason why Erdogan is threatened with a possible defeat in the polls.”
“Turkey has been in an economic crisis since 2018,” he said, adding that inflation rates “had hit households across the board.”
Most of Erdogan’s supporters, he said, “seem convinced that his government is not responsible for the tens of thousands of lives lost.” Either they believe the official argument that this is a catastrophe of biblical proportions that no government is doing anything about or they blame smaller actors like contractors for ignoring the political system that has enabled widespread corruption and nepotism.”
However, he added that “the actual impact on the polls will also depend on whether quake survivors will be able to vote, as many of them have been displaced.”
Nationwide, only 133,000 people have re-registered at a new address away from home, according to Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council. The International Organization for Migration said in March that almost three million people were displaced after the earthquakes.
That means many have to travel to cast their ballots, such as 51-year-old businessman Ali Catal and his family, who have to make the 650-mile journey from Izmir back to their former home in Hatay to vote.
“These elections are very important for us, not just for us, but for everyone who lives in this country,” he said.
Neyran Elden reported from Istanbul and Ammar Cheikh Omar from Mersin.