ANKARA: Large rallies for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and other “superspreader” events have sparked public outcry, with the government accused of double standards in the country’s fight against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In recent weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attended these crowded events — some resembling pop concerts — along with other provincial congress meetings across the country.
The indoor events, with thousands in attendance, have been criticized over a lack of social distancing. Meanwhile, peaceful protests of university students and ordinary meetings of some dissident NGOs are still forbidden because they do not respect pandemic measures.
Restaurants, coffee houses and art excursions remain shut under pandemic restrictions, which has left thousands of laid-off workers on the verge of chronic poverty and merchants grappling with bankruptcy.
“Shopkeepers have closed shutters and they are utterly devastated. The AKP’s rallies are wide open and everybody is smiling,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said during his parliamentary speech on Tuesday.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party was fined for violating social distancing rules after one of its events, but no punishments have been imposed for the pro-government rallies.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca, who advises against large rallies, publicly apologized after Erdogan and a group of AKP officials gathered at a mosque in Istanbul on Feb. 21 for the funeral of a clergyman.
“I should have foreseen such a situation,” Koca said Wednesday. “It is my mistake. As 83 million people, we should equally self-sacrifice ourselves by staying away from closed spaces and crowded areas during the pandemic.”
Thousands of people forbidden from attending funerals, along with millions of children still unable to attend school, have taken to social media to express their anger and criticize the fairness of pandemic restrictions.
A video featuring AKP youth members from the southern Hatay branch dancing, singing and carrying each other on their shoulders all without masks has gone viral and was dubbed the “political corona party.”
A recent survey by the government revealed that only 40 percent of the Turkish people trust the administration’s management of the COVID-19. Turkey is ranked 74th out of 98 countries in the Lowy Institute’s COVID Performance Index, which assesses each nation’s performance in managing the virus.
“I have not seen or heard anything like this,” Ozlem Kayim Yildiz, a neurologist from Sivas University, tweeted. “In the midst of the pandemic, while restrictions continue, ‘some’ are exempt from these restrictions. Has the caste system arrived? They do not even bother to obey their own rules. They don’t even care about looking consistent or thoughtful.”
So far, the coronavirus has killed 370 health professionals in Turkey.
Urartu Seker, a medical specialist from Bilkent University, echoed the widespread criticisms from those in the scientific community: “I’m very sorry, for those who follow the rules, those who lost their jobs, and for children who are out of school,” he said.
Turkey’s population continues to struggle financially as it deals with pandemic restrictions. About 100,000 shopkeepers closed their businesses last year, while about 40,735 companies ceased operations.
Millions are expected to lose their jobs after the Turkish government lifts the ban on layoffs in May, which will be a huge blow for a country that is already dealing with more than 11 million people unemployed.