ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — For many voters from southern Turkey, casting ballots in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be an uphill battle.
The elections are taking place just three months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake — the deadliest quake in the country’s modern history — struck the region, killing more than 50,000 people and leaving millions of others homeless and living in temporary accommodation — including tents.
Of the estimated 3 million people that have left the quake zone, only 133,000 have registered to vote at their new locations, officials say. Political parties and nongovernmental organizations plan to bus voters back to their hometowns to allow them to vote, which is no easy task.
“How will we transport 100,000 or 150,000 people to this city in one day?" said Akin Parlakyildiz, a local opposition party official in Antakya, the Hatay province city that suffered the worst devastation. "How will these people be transported through the narrow, inadequate roads? Where will they eat, drink and shelter when they come here? Frankly speaking, all these issues scare us right now.”
Residents who have remained in Antakya will vote at schools serving as polling stations in deserted neighborhoods, Parlakyildiz said.
Aydin Mersin, 53, says his tent is five minutes away from a polling station, but he has to cast his vote at a school in Antakya that’s an hour away on foot.
”(But) we will gladly vote, with God’s permission, and hope for the best. My whole family, all our relatives, will vote,” he said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has served Turkey as prime minister and then president since 2003, is facing the toughest election bid of his career. The opposition has campaigned on domestic issues such as rampant inflation, Erdogan's increasingly autocratic leaderships and civil rights.
His government also has been accused of setting the stage for the earthquake's catastrophic death toll and damage with lax building code enforcement. Many in the quake region have said the emergency response to the disaster was painfully slow.
Erdogan has centered his reelection campaign on rebuilding the quake zone. He has pledged to construct 319,000 homes within the year and tried to convince voters that only he can guide Turkey through a successful recovery.
“When I’m voting, I will first listen to my conscience. I will first think about how we were forgotten during the earthquake, how we froze, how we had nothing to eat or drink. I will think about all of this, and then cast my ballot,” said earthquake survivor Ali Akdeniz, 47.
Mucahit Ceylan contributed to this report.