In the third week of February 2019, Turkish headlines not only covered the tragic collapse of an eight-storey building in Istanbul, but also zeroed in on political developments, especially those touching on local elections scheduled for March 31st.
Eight-story Apartment Building Collapses in Istanbul
The collapse of an eight-storey apartment building in Istanbul occupied the headlines of Turkish dailies and public discussions for this week.
Turkish newspaper, Bir Gun, reported on the matter, blasting the ruling Justice and Development AK party as a “disaster.” The denunciation followed remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to the site of the collapse of the building in Istanbul's Kartal district.
Erdogan said that the incident was “not a disaster.”
Bir Gun revealed that Kartal mayor Mohammed Sakman, a member of the AK Party, was the one responsible for giving the green light for building an additional three stories without a proper building permit.
The Karar Daily, for its part, reported on the building collapse with a caveat for a headline, warning of an impending disaster facing Kartal district. The outlet warned that the incident proves that Istanbul is not prepared for future earthquakes, noting that the city falls on an active fault line. The Turkish authorities, after a massive 1999 earthquake disaster which killed nearly 17,000, pledged to do what it takes to prevent such a tragedy from repeating itself. They vowed follow-up and scrutiny for all construction that was ever created again, nevertheless, according to Karar, preventative action to stop the recurrence of the disaster was not taken.
On the contrary, Turkish officials moved towards loosening up red-tape measures on construction nationwide.
Poor Living Conditions, Stifling Price Hikes
With the country facing a weakening currency and debt crisis, which saw the lira nearly lose 30% of its value against the dollar in 2018, local dailies covered the day-to-day problems burdening living conditions in Turkey.
The Cumhuriyet newspaper covered a hike in oil rates and a trade union announcement made on the issue. The union’s statement said that oil derivatives essential for domestic heating systems and burners will be affected by the increase in prices, which became effective as of February 19th, 2019.
The Milli Gazete employed dark humour to get the message through on rising commodity prices against a lowered purchase power, saying that pastrami prices are now competing with gold. Pastrami prices, based on the quality of meat used, range between 75 - 156 Turkish liras per kilo. Popular kinds have the hefty price tag of 144 Turkish lira per kilo, with a single slice costing two liras alone. Kayseri, a large industrialised city in Central Anatolia famous for producing the meat delicacy, has witnessed a decline in demand for pastrami, Milli Gazete reported.
The Yeni Gazete, under a headline that highlighted Turkey’s poverty threshold rising to 6,542 lira, covered the plight of Turkish people growing hungrier by the day, and more families slipping below the poverty line, as the average income buckles under the pressure of rising costs.
The poverty threshold for a family of four was 6,542 Turkish liras ($1,232) monthly as of January, a 3.5% increase from the previous month, the Confederation of Turkish Labour Union (Türk-İş) had announced.
The poverty threshold depicts the amount of expenditures necessary for a family of four to feed itself healthily, while also including sufficient spending for clothing, housing (rent, electricity, water and fuel), transportation, education, health and related outlays.
Türk-İş also calculated that the hunger threshold was 2,009 liras in January versus 1,941 liras in the previous month and 1,616 liras a year ago.
Upcoming Local Elections
The Cumhuriyet daily speculated over Republican People's Party's (CHP) mayoral candidate for İzmir, Tunç Soyer, possibly paying a visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Nevertheless, the newspaper cited the social-democratic nominee saying that no such meeting has been arranged.
The Yeni Gazete, on the other hand, covered the country's second-largest opposition party, the Good Party (İyi Party), naming Ateş Ünal Erzen as their mayoral candidate for Bakırköy district. “On the eve of March 31st, we will hand over municipality keys to our party leader, Meral Akşener (Good Party founder),” the newspaper cited a confident Erzen as saying.The Good Party had held a meeting at its Istanbul headquarters to officially present Erzen as its running candidate for mayor of Bakırköy.
The Milli Gazete reported on Mehmet Özhaseki, the AK Party candidate for mayor of Ankara, showing low morale, and sounding defeated. According to the daily, Özhaseki buckled under pressure in a debate with the main opposition CHP candidate, Mansur Yavaş.
The Daily Sabah covered Erdogan’s statements, given at a ceremony in Mamak district of Ankara Province, blasting a “dirty” alliance being forged ahead of local elections.
"Recently, a person tied the noose around their own neck, threatened to poison the atmosphere, making dirty concessions between December 17- 25, hoping to achieve the plans which failed to realize on July 15 (hinting to the 2016 foiled coup attempt),” Sabah cited Erdogan as saying in Mamak.
“That is why they set aside all human moral values and principles aside, and went to negotiate with the political wings of terrorist organizations, hoping to securing a 3-5 votes leverage,” the president said in an oblique criticism of the country’s opposition parties.