On March 25, 2020, in the early days of pandemic alarmism, a teleconference was held in Beştepe, at the presidential palace in Ankara, with cabinet members and bureaucrats. News outlets broadcast the meeting live. Anyone wanting to know how the state would implement pandemic measures watched with interest. President Erdoğan, with a seemingly relaxed demeanor, joked with some cabinet ministers. He warned the Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu, to keep his social distance, asking, “Don’t you have enough space?” Despite the pandemic priorities, the topic which most excited the president was a new disinfectant product. He said, “Oh, let’s make a good advertisement campaign for this,” adding, "send some to us also.”
At the COVID-19 economic measures meeting held one week ago, after the deciding upon measures that mainly protected business people, Erdoğan was in a similar mood. He turned to head of the trade chamber (TOBB), Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu, and said, “You seem to be in good spirits.”
In those early days, Turkey had not yet seen the first COVID-19 peak. The number of cases was around 1,500 and the climb was just beginning, with a daily death toll of just 15. (An IBAN number had not yet been officially announced to collect aid. This campaign didn’t start until March 30, 2020) There were still widespread claims that Turkey would have an advantage in fighting the pandemic because it acted early. Members of the Science Board were not avoiding TV appearances because they did not yet have a reason to be ashamed.
In those days, scientists warned us that the situation was very serious. While the leaders of countries such as the U.S., U.K., and Brazil seemed to ignore the disaster, alarm bells rang. All countries were taking measures and preparing packages to mitigate the effects of this crisis. In Turkey, the government’s position could have been summarized as “every man for himself.”
It has been over a year the Directorate of Communications has published a brochure on Turkey’s “success in the pandemic.” If we look at the official figures, we are currently fifth in the world in terms of total cases, third in the world in the number of daily cases, and first in Europe. As for economic support provided to citizens – excluding the poorest countries – we are the third-to-last in the world. Sharing last place with Mexico and Albania.
The ‘full closure,’ which scientists and health professional organizations insisted upon for months, has been implemented with our ‘national touch.’ It is belated and has no support mechanism. Any kind of a support has not been considered. Everyone must take care of themselves. People will continue to work in factories and on construction sites. It is again up to citizens to protect themselves from the disease, to survive, and to solve problems. The responsibility for packed party conventions and funeral ceremonies has been cast upon the citizens. Even the government’s lost 128 billion dollars is said to be resting under the pillows of citizens.
The Turkish government’s performance during the pandemic is a striking example of an “inability to manage,” which has now become chronic. We have witnessed incompetence at every stage, from mask distribution to vaccine planning, from restriction practices to statistical information. However, the way the government ‘managed’ the pandemic has not only exposed their incompetence, absurdity, and irresponsibility resulting in deaths, but it has made visible the way this government reasoned hastily, how they prioritized, what they were looking out for, and what they were able to easily discard. Those realities became visible even to the cloudiest eyes. This was the situation that Trump in the U.S., Bolsonaro in Brazil, Johnson in England, Modi in India, and Putin in Russia were and are experiencing. As it turns out, the top five world corona rankings actually mean something. We are watching the populist bullshit of “we are defending people against the elite” collapse.
There is an irrational struggle to keep opposition municipalities from opening cheap bread kiosks, the taking down of banners asking “Where is the 128 billion?” and how civil servants turned-‘political officials’ acting like militants. Turning the judiciary into a tool of the government via political cases has gone from a de facto situation to a praised one. We see widespread disorderliness from cabinet ministers selling goods from their own ministry to adolescent consultants caught enjoying a whiff of “powdered sugar.” This is an administration that cannot control or supervise anyone while they claim to be aware of everything around the world. They have a hand in every major global crisis and have tried to take advantage of all of them. Somehow the cost of such attempts is high because we always get “caught in the middle.” They attempt to distort and explain always such international failures as grand accomplishments to the domestic audience.
In the face of all this, it is possible to say, “these are not problems of governance, but a picture of how they want to govern.” All the decisions and measures regarding the economic crisis, the pandemic, and the cost of foreign policy mistakes are clear choices. However, recent developments have reached a level that cannot be downplayed. The government has imposed and forced us to accept deeply-flawed foreign policy, economy, general functioning, law, and politics. Even regarding the pandemic measures, the government has imposed arbitrary restrictions on everybody except themselves and has been able to mischievously tack on forced conservative values.
For some time, the government has been able to control the way all of these things and manage the consequences. The president and the government have been able to hide the issue of not being able to solve problems or generate responses to un-met expectations in the court of public opinion. However, we are seeing now that they can no longer manage that either. Now the sounds made in their own media, the videos shown in their own parliamentary groups, the restrictions imposed, the measures taken, and the promised made are backfiring.