Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defended his decision to declare a state of emergency in 10 provinces affected by Monday’s twin earthquakes by saying there were people who “turn the process into political abuse”.
Parliament voted the state of emergency into force hours after Erdoğan’s comments.
The state of emergency will “give the state the opportunity to intervene against all loan sharks and groups of “fitna and fasad”, or those seeking to cause unrest and corruption, the president told reporters during his Thursday visit to earthquake struck Gaziantep (Enteb).
Without state of emergency powers, law enforcement is unable to intercept looting, the president said. However, police and gendarmerie do possess authority to stop criminals in peace time according to Turkish law.
“Have no worry, like we got over the earthquake in Van, in Malatya, Bingöl and Izmir, like we constructed new buildings to give to homeowners, we will do the same in these 10 provinces and hand them over,” Erdoğan said.
The 2011 quake in the easternmost Van (Wan) province, magnitude 7.2, killed 604 people and tore down 2,307 buildings according to official figures. In October 2022, there were still families living in temporary housing in cargo containers and tents, reports show. Most of the affected population has moved out of the province instead of receiving new construction buildings that could withstand future disasters. In the immediate aftermath, riot police shot tear gas on survivors who were protesting the late response.
While Erdoğan mentioned looters as the reason behind the state of emergency declaration, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Tuesday had dismissed claims of looting and said there had been “a few” individual incidents.
“The biggest wrong to citizens is to create a feeling of ungovernability,” Soylu had said. “This is not the case in Turkey.”
The three-month regional state of emergency will allow Erdoğan and his government to confiscate private property or allocate resources to disaster relief. Presidential decrees issued under the state of emergency are not subject to judicial review.
The constitution may be suspended temporarily under emergency rule, given Turkey continues to comply with its international obligations. While fundamental human rights are exempt from restriction, rights to free assembly or travel are among those that could be suspended. The president can also declare curfews, and censor the media completely or partially.
Persons assessed to be a threat to public order can be banned from the state of emergency area, and any associations or NGOs can be temporarily shut down.
Turkey is set to hold parliamentary and presidential elections no later than June this year, and Erdoğan had pointed to 14 May as a “suitable” date. The state of emergency will expire days before the mentioned date, and will have covered a wide area where 15 percent of Turkey’s population lives and Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) consistently receive their lowest votes. Even if reconstruction efforts are completed, political parties will not be able to campaign under emergency rule.