Last Tuesday, former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ali Babacan for the first time appeared on national television as an opposition politician. The talk show received much attention, evident from the conversation on various social media platforms, despite the fact that there was a Galatasaray- Club Brugge game during the same hours. Hardly any event beats football in Turkey. However, this was to be expected. A former minister of several AK Party governments, speaking his mind and criticizing the government is always a spectacle.
Before going into the details of the talk show, let me make a reminder. It is unrealistic to talk about the share of votes that new parties will get before a party is even legally established. It is, however, possible to talk about the potentials. More important is the question whether if there is actually room for new political parties from the electorate’s preferences perspective. So any assessment on the talk show with regards to the vote share of a “Babacan Movement” is far-fetched.
Two things stood out from his appearance on the talk show. For the first time he spared no criticism to his former boss President Erdoğan and his AK Party. Although, he did not name any names, the recipient of his disapproval was obvious. This he needed to do, as his silence was stating to incur a cost on his potential.
Second was his passionate defense of a “positive agenda”. His movement’s political discourse appears to be based on policy making rather than entering the relentless political bickering that dominates Turkish political scene for more than a decade now.
Furthermore, Mr. Babacan did not object when the host of the talk show host suggested he appears as more of a “political organizer” than a “political leader”. It shows that his movement is not organized in the typical political hierarchy that voters are used to see. A model of inclusive policy making by expert cadres seems to be main character of the organization. This is a novel if not radical approach for Turkey and the same time a very risky one. Turkish electorate favors leaders in the most classical definition. General belief is that Turkish electorate prefers a leader that can put up a good street fight and can bang one’s fist on the table if need be. It remains to be seen if this approach is sustainable and indeed the recipe for success. Nevertheless, his calm, polite and constructive manner was perceived as refreshing my most viewers. Mr. Babacan aims for being the antithesis.
Mr. Babacan opted to talk about the principles of his movement, refraining to go into detail. Therefore, his views on democracy, personal liberties, justice and transparency were hard to object to. Much like motherhood and apple pie. He missed a good opportunity to cast at least some of the skepticism of the secular voters when he delivered his views on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His answer was well received in the end but a more direct answer with less hesitation, in short a better delivery would have been much more effective.
His current focus on back office technical work and meeting potential team mates from different walks of life kept him away from the public eye for long. Mainstream media appearance of last Tuesday is likely to have been prompted by rumors that his absence caused. So he made an appearance and talked about general principles and guidelines of his movement. He had one chance to do this and he used it. His opponents, the media and the general public will not be as patient as he is and demand that he gets his hands dirty by going into the details of his stance on specific issues.
The most pressing problem Turkey faces today is unemployment. The main cure for it is an structural improvement of the Turkish economy.
In a country that has more than 50 million registered voters, a single vote does not carry much influence. Yet voter turnout in Turkish elections remains over 80%. So why do Turkish people vote? In fact, fulfilling one's duties as a citizen matters more than having an impact on the election results.
Even though the majority of the society did not conduct an earthquake test, 66.4% of society believes that their home is earthquake resistant. In fact, 43.7% of attendants stated that they believe their homes are earthquake resistant even though they never conducted an earthquake test. Statistics demonstrate that Turkey is not prepared for earthquakes at both an infrastructure and individual level.
Following a significant earthquake and amid a turbulent political conjuncture, Turkey's citizens are worried. Yet rather than politics or economics, people are mostly concerned about their individual security and that of their families.
Speculation regarding the potential of new parties are abound. According to our September 2019 polling across Turkey, the potential for the new parties that would be established by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former economy chief Ali Babacan stood a little over 17% combined. This number in line with the 15-20% of the electorate who are looking for something new. We will have to wait and see whether the new parties will be able to realize this potential.
As the demands of its electorate have changed, the AKP can no longer resort to ideological polarization. This could allow for shifts in the political landscape.
A nation-wide poll, conducted during the first week of January, showed that 58% of the population is against sending troops to Libya. A breakdown of the result according to party supporters is telling. The AKP base itself is opposed to it and a divergence prevails between the AKP and the MHP bases.
Turkey is now sending military support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) to aid in its fight against General Hafter. The potential benefit of this decision is too distanced from the public life. Particularly, if the mission turns into an operational one, it will be very difficult to explain to the public why we are indeed in Libya.
Turkey is locked into a single issue and it is not the new wave of Turkey bound refugees from Idlib. It is the mega Canal İstanbul project. However, public does not have adequate knowledge of the project according to a recent poll.
Finally, last week, former Prime Minister and chief of foreign policy, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s much anticipated Future Party was inaugurated. Analysts are rushing to deem his party’s chances slim. I see that there is a fundamental flaw in that analysis.
For a long time now, all our polling points to two main sources of dissatisfaction among the public. First is the economy. Second is the Syrian refugees and the Syria policy. Both are policy areas where Mr. Babacan and Mr. Davutoğlu were responsible for at the highest level of public office. It would have been much easier and strategically correct for President Erdoğan to link today’s woes to the wrong doings of the two during when they were in office.
Most recently, an event transpired likely to be seen in scenarios of an absurd comedy piece. With the “pro” votes of MHP and AK Party MPs, the bill postponing the requirement for filtration in thermal power plants, was approved in the parliament. The decision caused an uproar in the opposition ranks but also in a large section of society. Then, something quite unexpected happened; President Erdoğan vetoed the bill. The irony is of course, that the very same law that was tabled by Mr. Erdoğan’s AK Party was vetoed by President Mr. Erdoğan himself.
A couple of months ago, when three HDP mayors were removed from office, I had predicted that this increased the chances of early elections in the fall of 2020. Looking at the economic sentiment of the house hold, it is safe to say chances for an early elections has slimmed since. Because, right now economy is the number one priority of the Turkish electorate and they are not happy.
According to a latest poll, President Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) appears to have lost 1.2 points of support whereas Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) increased its support by 3.1 points after Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" in northern Syria.
In Turkey and across the world, the voting behavior of the young is changing. Turkey hosts close to 5 million citizens comprised between the ages of 14 and 17. By 2023, this entire group will vote, constituting close to 10% of the entire electorate.
Day-to-day events and inconsistent messages that have been coming from Turkey's traditional Western partners over the past decade have fostered negative sentiments. Yet the majority of the Turkish public values a long-term partnership with the West.
Since 2015, patterns in voting behavior have been shifting. Poor governance and a stagnant economy are largely behind this change.