Turkey's government is keen to go ahead with planned elections in May, despite the devastating earthquake that killed at least 47,000 people and left much of the country’s south-east in ruins.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with senior members of The Justice and Development Party to discuss the fallout of the disaster that brought down thousands of buildings and has led to criticism of the government for a slow response and for failing to enforce building codes.
Bloomberg News reported that discussions centred on the pros and cons of postponing the proposed May 14 election day, but the conclusion was to stick with the timetable, with the option of returning it to the original date of June 18.
The president previously said he would officially trigger the election process by around March 10 for the ballot to take place in mid-May. If he refrains from doing that, the vote would have to be held on June 18, the originally slated date.
Pushing the vote later than that isn’t permissible under Turkey’s current constitution, which allows the president to do such a thing only during times of war.
Mr Erdogan has vowed to hold those accountable for the huge death toll, the largest in a Turkish earthquake in modern times, and push ahead with swift rebuilding.
“It is our duty to hold the wrongdoers accountable before the law,” Mr Erdogan said in the southern province of Osmaniye as he visited after the second earthquake measuring 6.4 hit on Monday night.
Allies of the president also insisted that elections will go ahead.
“We won't run away from the ballot box or disregard democracy,” said Devlet Bahceli, an Erdogan ally and leader of the nationalist party MHP, adding that the opposition was “obsessed and delusional” for criticising the government's earthquake response and for discussing the election timing.
“Turkey … will bury you at the ballot box soon,” he said.
However, there remains a logistical challenge to elections going ahead.
The quake zone was home to about eight million registered voters, or 14 per cent of the electorate, and Turkey’s supreme election council is expected to rule on how or whether ballots can be held there. About two million voters have left the area, according to the government.
While Mr Erdogan is gearing up for what is expected to be one of the toughest electoral races of his two decades in power, he has promised a multi-billion-dollar construction blitz of quake-proof buildings and distributed handouts to quake victims.
But experts warn that the building bonanza could be a recipe for another disaster if safety steps are sacrificed in the rush, as the pace of the country’s emergency response and quality of construction work over a years-long boom have led to mounting criticism of the president.
Mr Erdogan has acknowledged an initial delay in dispatching rescue teams due to harsh winter conditions, but his government and the army have denied the overall response has been inadequate.
Meanwhile, the government on Wednesday announced a wage support scheme and banned layoffs in 10 cities to protect workers and businesses from the financial impact of the massive earthquakes.
Employers whose workplaces were “heavily or moderately damaged” would benefit from support to partially cover wages of workers whose hours had been cut, the country's Official Gazette said on Wednesday.
But the government also faces an exodus of workers from the quake-hit regions, as staff move to other parts of the country for safety.
“The main loss in production is from people leaving the region” rather than physical cracks in the ground, Kazim Tayci, chairman of the agricultural export association Ihbir, told state-run Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, without giving numbers.
The comments echo those of industrialists from the area, with the head of the Southeast Anatolian Exporters’ Associations saying other regions are “poaching” their staff after the earthquakes.
Germany on Wednesday said it will double its assistance to those affected by the quakes with an additional 50 million euros ($53 million).
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany wants “to make it clear that we, as a global community, see this catastrophe and we support the population”.
Of the new aid, 33 million euros will go to Turkey and 17 million euros to northern Syria, bringing Germany's contribution to 108 million euros in the region hit by a deadly earthquake.
“We're trying to get as much aid as possible into Syria, especially in the north of this country, through the crossings that have been opened, but the Syrian regime continues to obstruct the efforts of the United Nations,” said Ms Baerbock.