Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is trying to politicise the wildfires raging out of control in the country “to provide a smokescreen against its own inadequacy,” Al-Monitor columnist Metin Gurcan wrote on Thursday.
The public outcry over his government’s failure to handle the crisis “has been moving toward an existentially threatening level” for President Erdoğan, Gurcan argued.
The fires caught the government badly unprepared, even forcing it to admit that it did not have a single firefighting plane available. Such negligence has undermined Erdoğan’s claim that his executive presidency, now in its third year, makes the country stronger and more efficient.
Gurcan pointed out that ordinary people, not just opposition parties, are becoming more vocal in their criticism of the government in light of its inability to manage the crisis, despite the repressive climate in the country under which people can face jail time for merely criticising the government on Twitter.
The fact that the Turkish government has spent lavishly on palaces and other items in recent years but did not have a single operational firefighting plane available when the fires broke out has angered people. They are also angered by the fact that Erdoğan’s government hasn’t properly coordinated with local administrations in the affected areas, most of which are run by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), and even refused offers of foreign aid from Greece.
“Instead of keeping the nation and institutions united in the face of crisis, the government has maintained its polarising stance in a bid to divert attention from its own incapacity,” Gurcan wrote. “Ostensibly, it sees the calls for help and the criticism of the opposition as threats to its political survival, or more precisely, the survival of the executive presidency system, which was tailor-made for Erdoğan and introduced in 2018.”
Gurcan also charged that its handling of the wildfires is yet another example of how Erdoğan’s government is preoccupied “with managing public perceptions instead of efficiently running the state.”
This current crisis, however, “is likely to prove a critical milestone in undoing Erdoğan’s notorious knack for governing perceptions rather than the state apparatus.”