Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 176

A recent public opinion poll conducted by the Sonar Research company suggests that the slowdown in the Turkish economy is eroding the popularity of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Sonar Research interviewed 2,927 people in 22 of Turkey’s 81 provinces over the period from September 1 to 9. When asked which party they would vote for if a general election were to be held immediately, 32.2 percent said they would support the AKP, 22.3 percent the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 14.1 percent the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), 6.2 percent the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), 4.0 percent the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), and 3.6 percent the ultranationalist Young Party (GP). The center-right Democrat Party (DP) received 2.6 percent, just ahead of the Islamist-ultranationalist Great Union Party (BBP) with 2.3 percent and the center left Democratic Left Party (DSP) with 1.7 percent. A further 1.9 percent said that they would vote for other minor parties, while 9.8 percent were undecided (Anka News Agency, September 12).

Opinion polls in Turkey are notoriously unreliable. Nevertheless, even allowing for a relatively large margin of error, the results of the Sonar Research poll suggest a considerable decline in confidence in the AKP, which took 46.6 percent of the popular vote when it was reelected at the last general election in July 2007 (see EDM, July 23, 2007). Even when those who were undecided are excluded from the calculations, the AKP still only received 35.6 percent of the total. Earlier Sonar Research polls suggested that support for the AKP peaked in November 2007 at 49.7 percent, before slipping to 39.4 percent in February 2008 (Dogan Haber Ajansi, February 22).

Significantly, only 29.1 percent of those questioned in September believed that the AKP’s management of the economy had been successful, compared with 51.9 percent who believed that it was unsuccessful and 19.0 percent who did not know. While 69.4 percent of respondents believed that the economy was going badly, only 19.6 percent said it was going well and 11.0 percent did not know. Perhaps more importantly, only 10.2 percent believed that the economic situation would improve over the next two years, compared with 17.0 percent who believed it would remain the same, 48.8 percent who believed that it would become even worse, and 24.0 percent who did not know.

Since the fieldwork for the latest Sonar Research poll was conducted, the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat) has released new data which appear to reinforce the impression that the boom of the AKP’s first years in office is now over.

On September 10 Turkstat announced that Turkish GDP had grown by an annual rate of 1.9 percent in real terms in the second quarter of 2008, compared with 4.6 percent in 2007 as a whole (www.turkstat.gov.tr).

On September 15 Turkstat’s Household Labor Force Survey for May-July 2008 estimated that the Turkish economy had created 462,000 jobs in the 12 months ending in June. The working age population increased, however, by 768,000 over the same period. As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 9.0 percent in June 2008, up from 8.8 percent in June 2007 (www.turkstat.gov.tr).

Turkstat’s figures only include those who are employed or actively seeking work, rather than those who would work if jobs were available. Despite the increase in the unemployment rate, overall labor force participation rose from 49.3 percent in June 2007 to an admittedly still very low 49.6 percent in June 2008. Seasonal factors, such as increases in short-term jobs in the tourism sector and agriculture, mean that employment usually peaks in the summer. Even in June, the non-agricultural unemployment rate in urban areas stood at 11.9 percent, up from 11.4 percent in June 2007 (www.turkstat.gov.tr). Unless there is an unexpected economic upturn in the second half of 2008, unemployment can be expected to climb steeply as the winter approaches.

Although both the CHP and MHP will be encouraged by Sonar Research’s latest survey, in the context of the deteriorating economic situation, the increases in support for opposition parties are very small. When those who were undecided are excluded from the calculations, the CHP received 24.8 percent of the vote and the MHP 15.7 percent. In the July 2007 general election, the CHP, which ran on the same ticket as the DSP, won 20.9 percent, while the MHP took 14.3 percent (see EDM, July 23, 2007).

The AKP is likely to have been more worried by the performance of the DTP, whose candidates ran as independents in the July 2007 general election. When undecided respondents were excluded from the calculations, a total of 6.9 percent of respondents in September said that they would vote for the DTP, up from 4.3 percent in February (Dogan Haber Ajansi, February 22). The DTP’s support has traditionally been concentrated in the predominantly southeast of the country, where it currently controls several of the largest municipalities. The AKP has long targeted wresting control of these municipalities from the DTP in the next local elections, which are currently scheduled for March 2009.

Although the latest Sonar Research survey does not provide any indication of the reasons for the increase in support for the DTP, the results will be also be a concern for the Turkish security forces. The DTP is generally regarded by both its opponents and many of its supporters as being very close to the violent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).