On Feb. 7, a day after two massive earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, groups of men used their hands and basic tools to dig for people trapped beneath the collapsed buildings that once lined Atatürk street in Antakya.
They didn’t know it then, but more help and heavy machinery would not arrive for days and despite their efforts amid the dust, smoke and freezing winter temperatures, more than 50,000 people would die in the coming week.
Many Hatay residents said the disaster “was an act of God”, with some requesting journalists avoid making news about the lack of government assistance immediately following the quakes. In those crucial first days, one man told Turkey recap, “Hükümetimiz yanımızda” or “Our government is here”, adding he didn’t have any complaints.
Since then, the state’s slow response to the Feb. 6 tremors has been a constant subject of discussion. So much so that it prompted a rare apology from Turkish Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who asked for “hellallik” or forgiveness from the public.
Many critics and opposition supporters believed the government’s post-quake performance, combined with a snowballing economic crisis, would end the 20-year rule of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).
But this was not the case, as voting patterns in Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections would prove. Erdoğan drew 49.52 percent of the first round vote, and his ruling alliance maintained a majority in Turkish parliament.
The main opposition joint candidate and chair of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu drew 44.88 percent.
In a review of May 14 election data from the 10 provinces impacted by the earthquakes, Turkey recap found the disaster did not produce dramatic shifts in voting preferences when population changes are taken into account.
According to election data from the Supreme Election Council (YSK) and Anadolu Agency, the AKP experienced a slight reduction in support in the earthquake region – home to many of the ruling party’s core voters – as party loyalties remained largely unchanged, in line with pre-vote reporting by Turkey recap and other media outlets.
With the second round of the presidential election a week away, Erdoğan is spending this weekend in the earthquake zone. The visit may be a targeted attempt to draw back the small percentage of past AKP voters who did not support Erdoğan in the first round.
In the 2018 elections, Erdoğan was the frontrunner in 9 of the 10 earthquake impacted provinces.
But in this year’s May 14 elections, Erdoğan received the majority of the votes in 7 of 10 earthquake-hit provinces. His highest support came from Kahramanmaraş, where he drew 71.9 percent of votes. However, support fell slightly for Erdoğan in every earthquake province except Malatya.
In contrast, Kılıçdaroğlu led the 2023 presidential race in Hatay, Adana and Diyarbakır. At the same time, his party increased its vote share in all ten provinces.
Meanwhile, the Nationalist Movement Party’s (MHP) vote share decreased in all quake provinces.
In Hatay, Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu had a very tight race, drawing 48.03 percent and 48.80 percent, respectively.
Most of Erdoğan’s votes came from less affected districts like Reyhanlı, Kırıkhan, Hassa and Kumlu. In addition to experiencing less destruction, these places were already AKP strongholds.
On the contrary, Kılıçdaroğlu received more than 90 percent support in Defne and Samandağ – areas that underwent extensive damage and were also historical CHP strongholds.
Still, some historical CHP votes in Hatay went to the Worker’s Party of Turkey (TİP), which provided humanitarian assistance in the province immediately after the earthquakes and continues to do so.
Hatay was the only province the CHP vote share fell when compared to the previous election. The AKP also lost a seat to the İYİ Party in Hatay.
In addition, many AKP votes in the disaster region went to smaller parties in the Cumhur İttifakı, like Yeniden Refah and the Great Unity Party (BBP).
Meanwhile, the CHP’s rise in support translated into four additional seats in the parliament, with the party more than tripling its vote share in Diyarbakır.
The YSK has yet to announce the final parliamentary results, but it seems like AKP and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and its successor, the Green Left Party (YSP), lost the most parliamentary seats in the earthquake zone.
AKP lost one MP in Hatay, Maraş and Kilis each, and YSP lost one seat in Adana, Diyarbakır and Hatay each.
At a makeshift döner stall near the Hatay bus station, Sinan Yeşildal, a pharmacist and brother of the AKP’s top Hatay candidate Adem Yeşildal, shared a table with Turkey recap a week before the May 14 elections.
Yeşildal was accompanied by other prominent, local AKP figures who were making jokes about his intraparty dissidence.
“He was about to vote for the other side,” one laughed. “And then, the incapacity of the opposition changed his mind,” he said referring to Kılıçdaroğlu’s struggles to keep the Table of Six together, particularly regarding the announcement of his candidacy.
“I know they steal,” Yeşildal said, referring to AKP. “I know all of them. But [the AKP] at least improves the conditions of many in need.”
He added, “When we look at the numbers, this gives them the majority. It’s the same here even though they were late to help, and the same in the other parts of the country.”
Voters in the earthquake zone made their preferences clear on May 14, or at least those who could reach ballot boxes and whose votes were counted. It remains to be seen whether similar voting trends appear with the second round vote on May 28.
Though as in the first round, many displaced voters will face the same logistical and transportation hurdles to reach ballot boxes in quake-hit regions