The number of COVID-19-related causalities has reached to 574 and number of infected people to 27,069 as of April 5, according to the Turkish Health Ministry.
Turkish main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been criticizing President Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government because of not taking necessary steps on time and failing to slow down the spread of the disease.
YetkinReport asked Kılıçdaroğlu what he would do differently if his CHP was in power, instead of Erdoğan and the AKP. Here are his answers.
Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu, how do you explain President Tayyip Erdogan’s stance not to impose a temporary curfew for all ages in cities. despite an advice by the Science Committee, a member of which has already contracted the COVID-19 virus? What do you think is the reason behind this stance?
There are two possibilities. Firstly, the government may not be aware of the serious damage COVID-19 can cause to society. The second possibility is that the government is aware of facts but is ignoring the preventive measures announced by the Health Ministry’s Science Committee due to economic concerns. Because keeping people at home naturally has consequences. When you force people to stay home, you also need to cover their expenses at least to a minimum. It is mandatory by the “General Hygiene Law” (Article 83). We all know that the economy is not in good shape. And it’s evident that a government that has even gone as far as confiscating the reserves of the Central Bank would be in an economically-driven dilemma. There isn’t a single soul left who doesn’t know about these motivations. Maybe we can summarize this as follows. The contradictions, delays and postponements in the decisions taken are only due to the government’s concern for its future. If you set off with the worry of losing your powerful position, if this worry is what marks your decisions, then you will fail at the solving basic problems. This is the real reason behind our current situation.
The plan is not to decorate the library
Recently, just as the COVID-19 pandemic continued its spread, the public found out about Erdoğan’s April 2019 “Global Influenza Outbreak” (Pandemic) circular issued following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global warning, as well as the Health Ministry’s May 2019 Pandemic Plan. To what extent do you think the government has implemented this plan and prepared the country for the upcoming epidemic?
The 229-page plan that scientists and experts prepared in 2019 is important. However, the requirements of the said report have not been fulfilled completely. Because the presidency, which is the final decision-making body, hasn’t implemented some of the Scientific Committee’s proposals which were required by the report. Even the health minister has had to say that Erdoğan would have the last word. However, fighting a pandemic must be left to the specialists. Of course, politicians hold the right to have the final word on certain issues, such as implementing quarantines and curfews. But those who should be recommending these measures are physicians — the specialists in the field. The specialists made their suggestions but the ruling power hasn’t implemented some of them.
What’s more saddening is that a report was written on which health measures are to be taken and on how to organize when an epidemic hit the nation but that no material measures (medical equipment staff) were taken to fight the epidemic. If a country is to make the necessary preparations laid out by experts in a 229-page report issued 2019, the ruling power running it must make these preparations (so that in the case of an epidemic, the problem can be overcome in the shortest duration possible). If you still have a shortage of masks, medical equipment, or staff, one will conclude that the report was only made to decorate a shelf in the library.
How abouh the second half of 2020?
The epidemic focused the whole agenda of at least the first half of 2020 on public health, and the economic and political agenda is developing accordingly. What are the scenarios you foresee for the second half of the year?
I regret to express that the ruling power has no strategy to fight epidemics… How can we get out of this epidemic with minimal damage? Without a doubt, our priority is to heal the sick and stop the spread of this epidemic. The Scientific Committee has taken some decisions in this regard. But unfortunately, not implementing every necessary measure has led to the spread of the epidemic… Our Istanbul and Izmir Metropolitan Mayors repeatedly asked for the implementation of a curfew in their cities… They brought to attention those who went to Anatolia from Istanbul and Izmir. But unfortunately, some decisions were made with much delay. And there are still shortcomings in the field of health.
The ruling power had to focus on poverty and unemployment while also dealing with the health aspect. We know that these two areas are almost entirely ignored. Some 2 billion liras (roughly $295 million) have been allocated for the poor… 2,111,000 families who have previously been included in the poverty inventory will be paid 1,000 liras ($ 147.5). But what about the simit (bagel) sellers and others engaged in street trade, or the people working in coffee houses, none of whom are included in this category? Their businesses have shut down. Millions are unemployed… have any precautions been taken for them? No… It’s common knowledge that unemployment will bring about more poverty. We wanted to enact the “Family Aid Insurance law” to fight poverty. But they’re not accepting it. We will face increasing economic and social problems in the second half of the year. Once again, I must regretfully express that the ruling power itself is dragging about these problems… Instead of solving the issues, it became one of the very sources…
The main reason why the ruling power is not gathering the Economic and Social Council, which is a constitutional institution, is that it can no longer tolerate listening to the problems that the Council expresses. The ruling power is experiencing burnout.
Prepared for the second wave?
World Health Organization (WHO) warns that a second and probably a mutated wave of COVID-19 could threaten the world soon. What must Turkey do to get prepared for that?
Realistically, both Turkey and the world will keep up with a consistent struggle should a second wave come. Because there would be accumulated experiences that we’ve been going through in such a short period, and lessons learned. So naturally, Turkey too can achieve a certain success in terms of health in the second wave. However, in this period, as we’re already experiencing serious economic challenges, there won’t be any chance of success in economic and social life. Especially if the ruling power continues on the same tracks as today… We may face a deepening economic and social crisis. We may face an even worse situation than now. That’s why scientists are emphasizing the need for a new world and system, and highlighting the likelihood of social outbursts…
What needs to be done, first and foremost, is to change current policies. Trust between the government and the citizens has been badly damaged. Meritocracy in the state has collapsed completely. We have serious agricultural issues. We shouldn’t be surprised if we face famine in the upcoming period. I had explained in 13 clauses how Turkey would get out of the economic crisis on Aug. 1, 2018. Those clauses are still valid today…
Donations and the state of Treasury
As Turkey’s worrying about stopping the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, President Erdogan has launched the new National Solidarity donation campaign, subsequently freezing the campaigns that the Ankara and Istanbul municipalities had launched. Could the amount raised here remove Turkey from its current state? If not, then what’s the aim?
The primary reasons behind President Erdoğan’s “National Solidarity” campaign are the CHP municipalities. Because the CHP municipalities kickstarted a struggle against the epidemic to alleviate the toll on the people with a true welfare-state mindset. Our friends and colleagues ran an inclusive, ethical, conscientious and science-based campaign that didn’t marginalize anybody, and where donations were kept private. Even our friends in the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took kindly to these campaigns. And this bothered Mr. Erdogan.
But there’s another truth. It’s the state of the treasury… And from this point of view, I understand why they launched a donation campaign… Because the Treasury is absolutely empty… And that’s the reason behind Mr. Erdoğan’s reference to the Turkish War of Independence and the “National obligations” taxes implemented then… “The country’s burning, the treasury’s empty: give us money”… I, too, would hope for the public’s wide participation in this campaign. So that, at least, we can alleviate the toll a little bit on the unemployed and the families in need… But I don’t know if the ruling power can inspire this trust in the people. We will see. Because there’s a serious issue here. Money was raised for the relatives of martyrs; we still don’t know what became of it….
On the other hand, prohibiting the municipalities held by the CHP from accepting donations for the exact same purposes as the government is not only completely illegal but also, clearly, against Municipal Law… While some NGOs can open donation campaigns without any permission needed, it’s pitiful that the government blocks the CHP municipalities’ donation accounts. It is to surrender to prejudice and helplessness, and to a lack of solutions.
The money raised will not save Turkey from this impasse. And this also shows that the ruling power is not aware of the depth of the problems. And most of the donations came from public institutions anyway. And one mustn’t forget that these donations will be deducted from the taxes of these institutions… In other words, when income and corporate tax returns are given, all taxes will be reduced accordingly. Therefore, donations made by taxpaying corporations and institutions are not real, unconditional donations.
Calls to work together
Since the beginning of the outbreak, there have been calls to cooperate with the government, and the CHP municipalities have been saying that they’re ready. Did you get any positive or negative response from President Erdogan or members of the government?
No. The ruling power has been avoiding cooperation since the beginning. Because they’re bothered by the visibility of the CHP municipalities… But no matter what they do, CHP municipalities will still reach the homes in need and help them… After all, we’ve made a promise to our people… “Where there is the CHP municipality, no child will go to bed hungry.”
Do you have a plan to convince Erdoğan that this is an issue requiring national solidarity and that a collaboration is needed?
Our party spokesperson and I, as well as the deputy group chairmen of our party are presenting solutions on this issue, nearly every day. We point out any problems that catch our eye and if we mention a problem, we also make sure to mention our solution. We also announced that we would support the Parliament if a legal regulation would be needed. Furthermore, we wanted to establish a research commission in Parliament on this matter. We did these hoping it would lead to a stronger collaboration… But unfortunately, it’s been rejected with AKP and MHP votes….
New problems to emerge after the outbreak
Which main problems will Turkey face after going through this epidemic? Where do you see the biggest post-corona danger? From unemployment to health infrastructures, is CHP working on plans or preparing any kind of initiation on what needs to be done afterward?
I regret to express that we are facing an army of unemployed people and there will be more… Most of the closed businesses will re-open after the epidemic, naturally… One might think this will decrease the unemployment rate. But we already had a massive unemployment problem before the epidemic. Turkey needs to pass onto a “production-based economy.” The ruling power must implement a new economic policy. Monetary and fiscal policies and incentive policies need to encourage investments in production. There currently is no planning in economics…. But if there is no planning, sources cannot be used productively either… A lack of a plan leads to wastefulness. For example, you cannot bring yourself to say you will “postpone the payments of foreign-currency-fixed guaranteed projects for a year.” You don’t say “I stop the collection of natural gas and electricity bills for three months without interest.” Nor can you say “I’m reducing the VAT for three months on hygiene and cleaning products to be used within the scope of fighting this epidemic.” Or “I’m issuing a registry amnesty for the tradesmen and reshaping the agricultural loan debts for a year.” This leads to the erosion of trust in the eyes of the citizens.
Murat Bey, I can easily express this… Whatever problem Turkey encounters, we come up with a solution… We have solutions in all areas, from democracy to social peace, from foreign policy to education and the economy to social policies… If our elections declaration is being copied by the rulings party, surely our solutions are the right solutions…
What would CHP do differently if in power?
If you were in power and not the AKP, from the beginning, what would you do differently to Erdoğan?
- As soon as the incident occurred in China and the risk of spreading would be observed (leaping to a second country), we would, first and foremost, ask the Health Ministryto submit a detailed presentation to the cabinet.
- We would do what’s necessary by the 2019 Pandemic Report prepared by the Health Ministry, would comply with all of the Scientific Committee’s decisions and fulfill its requirements immediately. (Restrictions on entries into the country, closure of border crossings, the quarantining of citizens coming from abroad, the implementing a general curfew or quarantine across Turkey without hindering the production of basic and necessary goods, dedicating some hospitals in big cities fully to combating the epidemic, ensuring that test centers are widespread across Turkey and that work on the production of test kits would start and the necessary stock would be created).
- In order to inform the public about the epidemic and to publicize the precautions to be taken in terms of health, we would authorize the Scientific Committee spokesperson and quickly implement their suggestions. Thus, we would provide confidence and transparency in our discourse, as well as trust between the citizen and the administration.
- We would quickly resolve the personnel deficit…. Health is an area that cannot ignore a personnel deficit. All politicians should see and know this truth… Furthermore, we would immediately contact the relevant organizations to meet the medical equipment gap and put in place the necessary production, stocking, and distribution.
- We would convene the “Economic and Social Council” at once to evaluate and discuss the economic and social problems triggered by the epidemic. In gathering this council, we would do absolutely no discrimination between Council members…
- Apart from the Science Committee, we would create a separate “Economic and Social Problems Evaluation Committee” in coordination with the Treasury and Finance Ministry. This committee would be able to make decisions on the economic and social matters related to the epidemic, ensure cooperation between the central power and local governments and be able to layout the principles of these cooperations. Thus the fight against poverty and unemployment within the framework of the epidemic would be meaningful and complete, and the citizens would trust the government.
- In the meantime, we would quickly invite the heads of political parties to form a group in Parliament, convey the measures we took and take their opinions. We would explain that the issue is not a political issue, but a national – humanitarian problem. And express that we will inform them before each decision and follow through with that claim.
- We would give the governors the instruction to “cooperate with local governments and to quickly reach out to needy citizens.” In addition, we would order the necessary actions to be taken immediately for those who do not comply with the decisions we make in line with the Scientific Committee’s proposal.
- We would express to the mayors of metropolitan municipalities and other cities “the necessity to comply with the decisions taken in line with the recommendations of the Scientific Committee” and would ask them to “make their best efforts in this regard.”
- We would make the following call on our citizens… “These decisions and limitations are for your health, for Turkey’s health and future… Please stay home… All of the vital needs of those in need will be met at least to a minimum. Local governments will do their part in this regard… You can transmit your problems to us using the 112 emergency call center of the municipalities 153 call center…”
- Considering the Scientific Committee’s suggestions, we would write daily informative reports to be transmitted to two separate commissions built by governors at certain centers.