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Health concerns haunt Turkey’s leader amid election campaign

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Bünyamin Tekin

As Turkey approaches its most important election in its post-Ottoman history, rumors have been circulating about the health of its long-standing leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The country is grappling with the dual crisis of an economic downturn and the impact of devastating earthquakes in February that claimed over 50,000 lives. The president’s popularity is at an all-time low, and his support base appears to be dwindling.

Erdoğan’s two-decade rule is now facing a significant challenge from opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and with just three weeks left until the election, the stakes are high. The president has been campaigning tirelessly to reverse a dip in the polls and extend his winning streak, but his recent health scares have put a damper on his efforts.

Erdoğan’s recent bout of illness came in the midst of a hard-fought campaign. He had three appearances planned in central Anatolian provinces on Wednesday, but he canceled all of them due to a “stomach bug.” In a statement on his official Twitter account, the 69-year-old leader said he would be resting at home upon the advice of his doctors and that Vice President Fuat Oktay would take his place instead.

However, this is not the first time that Erdoğan’s health has been called into question. The Turkish leader has been suffering from several health complications, including epilepsy, since undergoing surgery for colon cancer in 2011.

Despite previously stating that he would not hold election rallies, in a sudden change of heart just 25 days before the election Erdoğan decided to embark on a campaign tour. Many say that going on a countrywide tour and holding provincial rallies would put his health at risk.

On Tuesday a television appearance by Erdoğan was delayed by over 90 minutes and cut short after he got sick on air. During the broadcast, the camera shook, and the reporter asking questions stood up when the broadcast was cut off. The president returned about 15 minutes later to apologize for getting sick.

The fact that the president went on the road at the expense of his health and put himself at risk is probably not to ensure the result of an election some claim he can comfortably win, columnist Fatih Altaylı wrote.

In the midst of all of this, many have noted the irony of Erdoğan’s recent health scares. In 2002, the Turkish leader criticized former Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit from the Democratic Left Party (DSP) for having health problems, saying that he should resign. Ecevit refused to resign, but he was swept from office just months later by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), as voters were tired of his long political career.

Now, over 20 years later, Erdoğan finds himself in a similar position, facing criticism over his health as he struggles to maintain his grip on power. With the election just around the corner, the question on everyone’s minds is whether Erdoğan’s health issues will prove to be his undoing.

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