Turkey’s polarised politics undermining COVID-19 response - Politico

Turkey’s polarised politics are undermining its efforts to respond effectively to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tries to rein in the popularity of political rivals, Politico said on Wednesday.

“Our country will hopefully get rid of not only the coronavirus, but also these media and politics viruses as well,” Erdoğan said in a recent speech, denouncing reports in the media that had criticised his government’s response to the coronavirus. 

Erdoğan’s government has tried to clamp down on opposition-run economic relief efforts during the pandemic. Last week, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş - both members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) - said the interior ministry had opened criminal investigations against them for launching coronavirus fundraising campaigns in March.

“It seems that the government’s intention is not to fight against the pandemic, but to fight against the services provided by the CHP’s municipalities,” CHP spokesperson Faik Öztrak said on Monday.

Evren Balta, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Özyeğin University, told Politico that the government’s attitude was a product of Turkey’s political polarisation. “The government sees the relief efforts as an opportunity for [opposition] mayors to become popular, therefore it rejects any collaboration with them,” she said.

Osman Elbek, a member of the Turkish Medical Association's COVID-19 experts' council, said that the government’s attempt to monopolise relief efforts, and a lack of communication with doctors' groups and municipalities, had undermined the response to the coronavirus

Erdoğan has also continued to ignore calls from opposition parties and medical experts to impose a stricter lockdown on the country to curtail the spread of the coronavirus due to fears over the economic impact of such a move.

“Talking about the economy may seem irrelevant or inhuman to some,” said İbrahim Kalın, Erdoğan's chief spokesperson. “But the fact is that life must go on somehow.”