Turkey’s Political Drama Makes COVID-19 Response Worse


Turkey has not fared well against the Coronavirus, and the bulk of their problems stem almost entirely from a combination of illiberal policy and political posturing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been more concerned with his political career and reputation than he has with the lives of Turkish citizens – and it is obvious.

As of last week, Turkey had over 34,000 COVID-19 cases, with a rate of cases doubling every six days. It didn’t help matters that the Trukish government lied to its citizens and the world about the actual numbers, with the Turkish Health Minister claiming as late as March 9th that there was only one lone case of the virus within Turkey’s borders. With President Erdogan terrified of the economic fallout from imposing a lockdown, he made the decision to ostrich himself from the problem by burying his head in the ground and hoping it would blow over.

Even in mid-March, when the United States and Europe were suggesting mass quarantine in populated areas, the Turkish government arrested 24 people for having ties to exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen – a man Erdogan is absolutely terrified of and blames for every single political problem he has. It’s pretty clear where the president has his priorities, and it was not on keeping people safe.


The Turkish legislature has taken matters in to their own hands – which can come with repercussions of their own. Legislation on everything from releasing low-level prisoners to establishing a full lockdown are all currently in consideration. I wonder where Erdogan’s political prisoners would find themselves in the ranking.

The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, is a member of the opposition party and is aligned with other mayors in taking a stance against Erdogan’s failed leadership amid the crisis. The mayor launched a fundraising campaign for COVID-19 victims called “We Will Succeed Together” as a way to raise money from wealthy Turks to help take care of those desperately in need.

What was the president’s response? To immediately launch his own fundraising campaign while declaring the mayor’s campaign illegal, and then threaten to arrest anyone who took part in it accusing supporters of engaging in a seditious plot to undermine the government.

Erdogan’s charity campaign is doing really well. The President himself made a very generous donation of his own wealth, and many teachers and state employees have also made donations… reportedly at the request of supervisors or union representatives who expected to see bank receipts proving the donation transaction took place. Some charities don’t require consent.

Turkey’s economy has been going through a very rough patch that started long before the pandemic began, with depreciating currencies and a failing trade campaign compounding the problem. It isn’t going to get better anytime soon; the government made a last-minute 48-hour curfew that was expected to be implemented in 31 cities, causing a massive panicked rush to the stores. The sudden implementation was considered such a disaster that the minister responsible for making the call offered his resignation this past weekend – with President Erdogan refusing to accept it.

In Turkey, you have a government with a paranoid theocrat in office more worried about his image than his citizens. His response to the virus outbreak was similar to those of China and Iran; lie about the number of cases, deny any outbreak at all, blame political enemies for the ensuing failed government response, and publicly entertain conspiracy theories to cover yourself.

Unless citizens (in any country) can have total transparency from their governments and the freest press available, this same pattern of behavior is unlikely to change.

Brian Lambrecht

Author: Brian Lambrecht

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