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Opinion: Erdoğan’s Options | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks during a press conference in Ankara, September 30 2013. (EPA/KAYHAN OZER/ANADOLU AGENCY)

At the time that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was putting the finishing touches on his historic package of economic, political, and social reforms, his closest aides were viewing polling data.

Consensus Corporation, a major research company in Turkey specialized in public opinion polling which successfully predicted the results of the 2011 general elections, recently published the details of a survey it carried out on the socio-political options facing Turkey. The survey was conducted throughout 81 Turkish cities and polled a broad range of people of different age groups and political views.

Erdoğan, who is preparing for three elections—municipal, presidential and parliamentary—in two years is well aware that the fate of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) over the coming decade will be decided by these election results. He will therefore, no doubt, pay close attention to this report, and the people’s views. Opinion polls of this kind must be a priority for any leader, and in this case they serve to remind Erdoğan of the suffering of the Turkish people.

A brief reading of the Turkish street’s central demands on sensitive and decisive issues could perhaps help us closely realize the Turkish electorate’s mood and why it is so important that the leadership listen to them.

Fifty percent of the people covered by the poll are of the opinion that Turkey’s major problem is the on-going unemployment crisis. The issue of terrorism came second with 48 percent of the vote, followed by education, democracy, freedom of expression, and inflation.

The good news for Erdoğan is that 50 percent of Turkish voters are prepared to vote for the AKP at any future parliamentary election. This figure matches public expectations. While only 27 percent of those polled said they would vote for the opposition Republican People’s Party.

However the AKP’s prospective share of the vote in the municipal elections is not as strong, with only 40 percent of those polled saying they would vote for the ruling party. This comes as the Republican People’s Party enjoys a strong presence in a number of cities along the Aegean Sea, particularly Izmir, which is known for its left-wing and secular politics. Despite this, the Republican People’s Party can only expect to obtain 25 percent of total votes, according to the poll.

As for the Kurdish issue, 43 percent of those polled said they back the government’s recent endeavor to engage in a dialogue with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan to solve the Kurdish problem, whereas only 39 percent judged the AKP as being successful in confronting terrorism. This means that the Kurdish issue in Turkey remains central to discussions.

Erdoğan will also face additional pressure in drawing up the new constitution. According to the survey, 67 percent oppose the AKP’s monopolization of the constitution drafting process and are demanding that other political and civil powers should be involved in this.

The opinion poll come as a surprise to many, perhaps including Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as 26 percent of those polled said they would like to see current Turkish President Abdullah Gül become Prime Minister.

Perhaps the biggest shock in the poll is the sheer number of people who believe that Erdoğan is seeking to shift the system of government in Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, with 74 percent saying they would oppose this. These figures and rates have declined remarkably compared to figures and surveys in previous polls.

As for foreign policy, another shock was the 48 percent of respondents who said they opposed Erdoğan’s handling of the Egyptian crisis. As for the Syrian crisis, only 34 of those polled expressed support for the government’s policies, this is a considerable decrease from the 44 percent support enjoyed by Ankara over Syria in a 2012 survey.

While Erdoğan would have been far from happy with the polling date, Republican People’s Party leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, will have been even more disappointed, with his party failing to secure any significant advance over the past two years.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still has a lot of options in front of him, despite the criticism and accusations that he has endured. He says that his mission has yet to be accomplished and that his main objective is to strengthen Turkey and its society in the run up to the country’s centennial celebrations in 2023.

Addressing those who object to the extension of AKP’s term in power and who demand more democracy and change, Erdoğan can point to the German elections and Angela Merkel’s third term in power.

Six months remain until Turkey heads to the polls for the first, but not last, time. Will there be surprises in store for the country’s electorate? Or has Erdoğan succeeded in securing his grip on the tiller of the Turkish ship, regardless of which direction the winds are blowing?

Only time will tell.