When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected in 2003, he pledged to root out widespread corruption and fix the country’s lethargic state institutions, says Gonul Tol in Foreign Policy. With last week’s earthquake, those promises were “buried under the rubble”. Rather than combating graft, Erdogan has crammed government bodies full of his cronies. He awarded his associates massive infrastructure projects and exempted them from safety codes – many of the resulting shoddy buildings in Hatay, close to the quake’s epicentre, have now been levelled, killing thousands of residents. The town’s only airport runway, built directly above a fault line by a company closely linked to Erdogan, was split in two.
Erdogan’s allies are notorious for cutting corners on safety: their companies have been blamed for a 2018 train crash that killed 25 and a mining explosion in 2014 that left 301 dead. What’s more, rescue efforts were hampered because of Erdogan’s moves to sap institutions of their independence. He repealed a protocol enabling the army to respond to disasters without instruction, causing fatal delays. And Turkey’s emergency response unit is underfunded and led by a theology graduate with no experience in disaster management. It is against these charges of “corruption and misrule” that Erdogan must fight for re-election in May. As people pull their loved ones from the rubble, many are coming to think Turkey’s “compounding problems have a first and last name”.