Recent opinion polls suggest that a string of corruption scandals and the slowdown in the pace of economic growth in Turkey are eroding popular support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
An opinion poll conducted from October 8 to 12 by the Metropoll Center, a research company very close to the AKP and not renowned for underestimating the party’s popular support, found that only 35.0 percent of voters would support the AKP if a general election were to be held immediately. In September Metropoll put support for the AKP, which was then flushed with relief after narrowly escaping closure by the Constitutional Court (see EDM, July 31), at 50.9 percent (www.metropoll.com.tr). The survey suggested that the main reason for the dramatic decline in support for the AKP was concern about the corruption scandals that have begun to plague the party (see EDM, September 11) and a general pessimism about the direction in which Turkey is heading. Only 24.9 percent of the 1,582 participants in the survey believed that things were going well in Turkey, compared with 70.2 percent who thought that they were going badly and 4.9 percent who did not know. A total of 43.4 percent thought that the party had been successful in combating corruption, compared with 51.5 percent who believed it had been unsuccessful and 5.1 who did not know (www.metropoll.com.tr).
The opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which has recently been relentlessly publishing details of corruption scandals involving people close to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appeared to be the main beneficiary of the decline in support for the AKP. In September a Metropoll survey had indicated that if a general election were to be held immediately, the AKP would be the only party that would cross the 10 percent threshold necessary for representation in parliament. The most recent Metropoll survey, however, put support for the CHP at 15.5 percent, up from 9.5 percent in September. The ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) fared less well at 8.6 percent, up from 6.6 percent in September, while support for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) rose from 2.6 percent to 3.4 percent. Perhaps most significantly, the number of those who were undecided or determined not to vote rose from 25.6 percent in September to 31.2 percent in October (www.metropoll.com.tr).
The same disillusionment was apparent when respondents were asked to name their favorite Turkish politician or statesperson. The uninspiring and frequently cantankerous leaders of the main opposition parties—Deniz Baykal of the CHP and Devlet Bahceli of the MHP—have long been the AKP’s main electoral assets. A total of 22.9 percent named Erdogan as their favorite politician, ahead of President Abdullah Gul with 8.7 percent. Baykal ranked third with 4.0 percent, ahead of the 83-year-old former President Suleyman Demirel, who retired in 2000, with 3.3 percent, and Bahceli in a distant fifth with 2.9 percent. A total of 35.9 percent of respondents said that they could not think of any Turkey politician or statesperson whom they liked.
The Metropoll survey reinforced the findings of a poll conducted on October 4 and 5 by the A & G Research Company, which is generally regarded as equidistant from all political parties and has a better record than any other Turkish research company in terms of predicting election results. The A & G poll put popular support for the AKP at 28.6 percent, ahead of the CHP at 14.5 percent, the MHP at 12.9 percent and the DTP at 4.6 percent. A total of 30.8 percent of those questioned by A & G said that they were undecided. In an interview with the daily Vatan, A & G owner Adil Gur said that although their findings suggested that the corruption scandals involving the AKP had played a role in the decline in the party’s support, most people seemed more concerned about the economy (Vatan, October 9).
Whatever the reasons, the poll findings will make worrying reading for the AKP leadership as it looks ahead to the March 2009 local elections. Erdogan has always regarded anything less than an increase in the AKP’s vote as a failure. As a result, there is always a danger that in March 2009 the AKP will become a victim of its own success, having won 34.3 percent of the popular vote in the general election of November 2002, 41.7 percent in the local elections of March 2004, and 46.6 percent in the general election of July 2007.
There are also reasons to believe that the AKP’s reserves of hope and luck, always the most precious of political commodities, are beginning to run out. One of the main reasons for its election victory in November 2002 was that it had only been formed as a party in August 2001 and was therefore immune to the widespread public disillusionment with the more well-established parties, which were held responsible for the devastating financial crisis in 2001. By the time the AKP actually came to power in November 2002, the economy was already rebounding strongly, meaning that all the government had to do was to manage an economic recovery. Yet, even before the recent global financial crisis, there were signs that the Turkish economy was in trouble and widespread public frustration that the healthy macroeconomic figures for 2002 to 2007 had not been translated into a commensurate improvement in living standards or a reduction in the rate of unemployment.
In recent weeks there have been worrying indications that unlike the Turkish business community, Erdogan and the rest of the AKP leadership are unaware that for Turkey, the full impact of the current global financial turmoil lies in the future, not least in the anticipated downturn in Turkey’s export markets and a higher cost of borrowing at a time when the Turkish corporate sector has already accumulated substantial foreign exchange debts.
“Praise be to God, I believe we shall be the least affected by the global financial crisis,” Erdogan recently declared (NTV, October 13). He did not explain how.
On October 17 the Turkish Industrialists’ Businesspersons’ Association (TUSIAD) once again called on the government to recognize the danger and take preventative measures to try to soften the eventual impact of global financial turmoil on the Turkish economy (CNNturk, October 17), but there is still no sign that Erdogan is listening.