COVID-19 donations in Turkey overshadowed by politics

Some 50 percent of Turkish people disagree with President Erdoğan's donation campaign and believe that the government should be supporting the people and not the other way around. Some 41 percent disagree with the government's move to freeze CHP-led municipalities' donation campaigns while only 35 percent support the decision.

Turkey’s never-ending dispute between the government and the opposition has not spared the battle against COVID-19. Though the economic downturn caused by the pandemic has pushed many citizens in vulnerable situations, petty quarrels between politicians seem far from abating. Tensions between the government and the opposition rose over donations campaigns to collect money to combat the coronavirus outbreak. Lack of communication between the government and the opposition also contributed to nationwide panic after a 48-hour curfew was announced late at night on April 10. 

On March 29, municipalities led by the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) launched donation campaigns to provide help to those in need as a result of the outbreak. The very next day, President Erdoğan announced the launching of an identical campaign called “Biz Bize Yeteriz Türkiyem”, or “We are self-sufficient my Turkey.” In his announcement, Erdoğan emphasized the importance of uniting as a country during these difficult times. Yet on March 31, the Ministry of the Interior blocked the bank accounts of CHP-held municipalities. Erdoğan later claimed that the municipalities were attempting to establish their own states.

In our April survey, we asked our survey participants their opinion regarding the donation campaigns. 50.4% of the participants disagreed with President Erdoğan’s campaign stating that the government should be supporting the people and not the other way around. The remaining participants, however, believed that the public had a responsibility to support the government such times. With 61.9%, the 18-24 year old age group had the highest percentage of people who disagree with President Erdoğan’s campaign. In terms of political orientation, with 69.5%, AK Party voters had the highest rate of people who agree with President Erdoğan’s campaign, while HDP voters had the lowest with 24.5%.

To understand public opinion with regards to the different donation campaigns, we also asked the participants which campaign or institution they would prefer to make their donations to. While 22.6% of participants stated that they would not donate at all, one in four respondents stated that they would prefer to donate to the president’s campaign. The share of people that stated they would not contribute to any campaign is quite telling. As it will become necessary for people to donate given the lack of resources, this number is likely to rise. 

Kızılay was the second most popular choice with 16.6%, which shows that the distrust towards the institution caused by the donations made to the Ensar Foundation seems to have faded away. Finally, the percentage of those who would prefer to donate to the campaigns led by municipalities was close to 11%.

Regarding the freezing of the municipalities’ bank accounts, 41.1% disagreed with the decision while 35.7% supported it. Those answers were again in accordance with the political views of the participants. Half of AKP voters and 40.6% of MHP voters agreed with the decision. On the other hand, 58% of CHP voters and 68% of HDP voters disagreed with it. 

Aside from donation-related discussions, the lack of communication between the government and the municipalities has led to other problems. When the 48-hour curfew was announced late at night on April 10, thousands of people took to the streets in panic to hoard on groceries. Footage showed that people largely flouted social isolation rules and may have accelerated the spread of the virus. Later that night, Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu stated that he had found out about the curfew at the same time as everyone else. This means that the mayor of a city with a population of 16 million did not have time to organize his staff and resources to manage the situation.

A survey we conducted earlier in March about the success scores of the three major metropolitan municipalities showed that all three mayors enjoy an approval rating of 50% or more in their respective cities. This suggests that the Turkish government would be better off using municipalities in its efforts to collect donations, as mayors tend to enjoy high levels of support in their respective cities. Coordinating with municipalities would be wise to better implement strict measures such as curfews without causing panic among the public.

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