Don’t panic, Mr. President is online

The last time President Erdoğan, who is 66 years-old, physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. Nobody asks whether the President and his close circle have been tested for coronavirus. And of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring.

The last time President Erdoğan physically took part in a meeting was a week ago. The venue was not the Presidential Palace, but the Çankaya Mansion in Ankara. Social distancing was carefully planned. A few days later, a picture was taken and shared of him on his balcony, clapping his hands in support of the health workers with his wife Emine Erdoğan.

When the street ban for people over 65 was imposed, Erdoğan’s phone conversation with an elderly AKP supported was shared on social media. 

The other day, pictures of President Erdoğan wearing a bright green jacket, holding a mini teleconference with his cabinet were published. His expression is mildly concerned, but healthy.

It looks like President Erdoğan (66), like many other political leaders in Turkey -almost all above 65 years- isolated himself from the public when the epidemic hit Turkey. Probably the only social contact he now has is with his family. Which is the right decision, since the coronavirus is hitting older people and those with chronic diseases much worse.

However, nobody even mentions or asks about his whereabouts, or whether the President and his close circle have been tested. Of course, no one dares to ask what happens if he gets sick, and what the Turkish Presidential System would bring. 

Meanwhile, the flow of information and updates on Coronavirus cases and deaths are solely announced by the Minister of Health, Fahrettin Koca. Some days, he holds a late press conference, thanking the President and the Ministry of Treasury, Berat Albayrak, multiple times. Some days, he only tweets new the number of cases and deaths. “All of them are old people, over 60” assures Koca. 

This is basically all we get.

On social media, pressure continues about the number of test kits, and how many are being used. Concerns that the government is withholding data are growing as well. WhatsApp groups are flooded with unconfirmed, dramatic stories. Some journalists and health workers are investigated, just like in China in the first days of the outbreak. 

Another pressure point is a complete lockdown. A few days ago, Minister Koca said “Everybody should declare his/her own State of Emergency. We don’t need to lock down the whole country if you comply with the rules.” However, professors of law warn that a complete lockdown will mean a State of Emergency Decree (SoE), whereby decrees by the President can not be legally constrained. Turkey was ruled for 2 years (2016-2018) with a SoE, and the Constitutional Court declined to review legal applications on the decrees. 

Urgent warnings about the health system come rather from Turkish professors, scientists living abroad. Or those who don’t fear to be labelled as “opponents”. The most common criticism is that the government is not as transparent as other countries with COVID19 data, and more information on positive cases is needed. 

Meanwhile, pro-government newspapers are full of stories of how strong Turkey is, how badly Europe is handling the crisis, leaving old people alone to die. The President, directing orders online, and a few cabinet members are quoted daily. 

If you take the mass media seriously, you might believe that the coronavirus cure is already here (“The medicine which helps in 4 days has arrived”) or that the vaccine will be soon ready. There is no reason to panic, the motto goes: Everything is under control. 

Nobody should panic, we will overcome this. Be patient and pray.