Last week, former Prime Minister and foreign policy chief Ahmet Davutoğlu inaugurated his much anticipated Future Party. As expected, his speech emphasized democracy, personal liberties, transparency and fair economic development. This is what all politicians across the world vow to defend. All leaders employ these terms to fit their respective preferences.
The ideas Davutoğlu put forward in his speech were rather liberal. Still, there was nothing in his speech that was particularly striking or novel and that set him apart from the establishment. His boldest move came we he acknowledged the demand for Kurdish rights, in particular Kurdish-language education. This is an issue even the Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader doesn’t dare to tackle despite close collaboration with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) during the country’s last municipal elections.
In short, we have yet to see how Mr. Davutoğlu’s rhetoric will translate into actions. For example, how will he react next time a proxy mayor is appointed to a HDP-led municipality? Such events will help unveil the true character of the Future Party.
Analysts were quick to deem the party’s chances slim, though I detect a fundamental flaw in their analyses. In Turkey, the success criteria of new parties is defined as getting 30-40% of the popular vote. This happened in 2002 under extraordinary circumstances and the AK Party, thanks to President Erdoğan’s ability to keep the right under one party, managed to secure single party governments for the past two decades.
However, the new system dictates that to win one needs more than 50% of the vote. Furthermore, the ex-ante alliances allow for parties to come together to clear the 10% threshold. Therefore, even if a party gets, say, 8% of the votes and manages to secure seats in the parliament, then that party has a seat at the adults table. It can leverage its votes for the second round of the presidential elections, which the winner and the runner up of the first round will desperately be in need of. For a new party, that is a successful result by any measure.
Realistically, this is what new parties are aiming for. Perhaps not 8% but definitely somewhere between 10-20%. As I wrote before, and keep repeating, our polling suggests that there is a 15-20% swing vote among the People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı). Needless to say, this is the low hanging fruit for both of the new comers.
By this logic, I would further speculate that if this system is kept in operation, in the future we will witness the formation of more new parties. Perhaps thematic ones such as a green or feminist initiatives will emerge to form political parties with a potential to attract voters from the CHP or the HDP. The era of parties getting very large share of votes in Turkey is over.
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.
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.
Last Tuesday, former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ali Babacan for the first time appeared on national television as an opposition politician. 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 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.