The fight over the “restless conservative” in Turkish politics
While they are no new demographic, the restless conservatives are getting stronger amongst the ruling People’s Alliance electorate and the AKP base in particular. The Erdoğan and AKP that they had supported so buoyantly for the past decade are no longer the same.
June 28 2020
Now that the coronavirus is, at least, partially out of the news cycle, Turkish politics seem to be heating up. Let me state at the onset that any election before 2023 seems unlikely. Still, the plot thickens as new actors emerge and the public’s sentiment over the economy is shifting. The years leading up to the 2023 will be tough and show the ugly side of politics.
It is time to examine the current political landscape and attempt to pinpoint the dynamics that will shape the future. For some time now, there seems to be a stalemate between the opposition and the ruling Cumhur Alliance (People’s Alliance). As around 7% of the electorate is undecided, both sides get around 47-48% of the popular vote according to polls we conducted earlier this month. In contrast to our earlier polls, the DEVA Party, which is led by former economy minister Ali Babacan, made an appearance with 1.5%.
This came after the first wave of media appearances led by Mr Babacan, watched by millions of viewers. While the level of support remains very low, it is noteworthy that the DEVA Party seems to attract voters from both sides of the political landscape. More than half of the 1.5% of DEVA Party supporters stem from the electoral base of the ruling People’s Alliance. The rest comes from the opposition National Alliance (Millet İttifakı), constituted of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Good Party (IYI). If this trend carries on, Mr Babacan’s intent of setting his party in the middle could bear fruit.
İYİ Party and the threshold
For two months in a row, Meral Akşener’s İYİ Party managed to clear the 10% threshold necessary to enter parliament. If Akşener can manage to keep İYİ Party comfortably above the 10% threshold, the party would enjoy a strong bargaining position in the forming of a new oppositional alliance. Rather than being the small partner of the CHP, freed from the fear of clearing the threshold, İYİ Party could position itself as the leader of a centre-right alliance by bringing the small parties together such as the Democrat Party and the Felicity Party. Besides, the new parties founded by Babacan and Davutoğlu could join Akşener if they are unable poll comfortably above the 10% threshold themselves. This would be a game changer. An enlarged centre-right would have a much bigger appeal for the restless conservative voters that constitute between 10-15% of the total electorate.
Who are the restless conservatives?
While they are no new demographic, the restless conservatives are getting stronger amongst the Cumhur Alliance electorate and the AKP base in particular. Erdoğan supporters have enjoyed several victories within the past two decades. Former outsiders to the system, Turkish conservatives rose economically and socially and are now an integral part of the establishment.
Yet in the past 5 years, they have seen their gains backslide, most notably on the economic front. While support for the Cumhur Alliance stands at 48%, only 39% of the electorate say “Erdoğan” when asked which politician can fix the economy. What is more, this electorate is also disgruntled over declining governance and the delivery of services. From a materialistic perspective, they are restless. They’re also emotionally restless.
The Erdoğan and AK Party that they had supported so buoyantly for the past decade are no longer the same. As a result of this, and for the first time, some restless conservative voters now listen to other leaders. Five years back, their ears would have been sealed off to other politicians, as they were more or less content with the government. Nowadays, they are more susceptible to other political actors. It is no coincidence that two restless conservatives, Babacan and Davutoğlu have established their own parties. In the future, the restless conservatives will be the centre-right battleground and will determine the outcome of the elections.
CHP and the newfound potentials
The dynamic that I think will play out in the near future is the new relationship that the main opposition CHP is developing with the poor neighbourhoods of large cities through the support programs of its municipal administrations. In the March 2019 local elections, the main opposition took over AK Party municipalities in 6 of the 7 large cities across Turkey. During the campaign period of those elections, the AK Party campaigned heavily that support programs for impoverished neighborhoods, who overwhelmingly vote AK, be cut under CHP mayors. Not only did this not happen, but support for CHP-led municipalities rose during the pandemic. For the first time in the past 30 years, the voters that do not vote CHP have begun to benefit from CHP governance. This will have an impact on the numbers. So the CHP could soon garner votes from the restless conservatives.
While most attention has focused on the presidential elections, since it concerns Erdoğan, little attention is paid to what this would entail for the distribution of seats in the parliament. If new parties make it to the parliament either by themselves or through an alliance, to clear the threshold, the Cumhur Alliance will likely lose its majority in the house. Right now, Cumhur enjoys a parliamentary majority so presidential decrees are unchallenged. The parliament acts as a rubber stamp.
Yet if Cumhur were to lose the majority, it would be very difficult for Erdoğan to govern in this highly dysfunctional political environment – even if he were to emerge victorious from the presidential elections. This is the main motivation behind talks over changing the election system to introduce new thresholds. The details of the discussion are yet unknown. But it may prove very difficult for the AKP to convince its MHP partner to enact changes in order to disadvantage smaller parties.
Stuck below 50% and challenged by the economy and the new actors, Erdoğan finds himself in a very rigid alliance that does not provide him with many policy options, for example to appeal to the Kurds, that will enable him to expand his support base. So he is getting harsher and trying to demonise his competitors to ensure that the restless conservatives are not tempted. We are likely to see more of this in the future.
Politics will heat up, get tough and get even uglier in the near future.
Can Selçuki holds a MSc degree in Economics from University Bocconi. Before co-founding Istanbul Economy, a public opinion and big data firm, Can worked as an economist at the World Bank Ankara Office working both with the public and private partners in private sector development. His work at the World Bank focused on regional development, competition and innovation policies. Prior to working at the World Bank, Can worked as an economics researcher at the Brussels based think tank the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) for three years. He is the author of several papers and reports on trade competitiveness, regional development and innovation policy in Turkey. He is frequent commentator on Turkey and the region in print and visual media such as BBC World and FT and regularly writes on Turkish economy and politics in Turkish and international print such as Foreign Policy.
I think this is the perfect timing for an effective Greens Party in Turkey. It would be the ultimate appeal for the “Generation Z”. A leader of the Green Party that will get 3-4 percent of votes in the first round of presidential election might negotiate to become the Minister of Environment in the second round of the election.
The nature of the Nation’s Alliance has changed. It no longer represents a pre-election alliance formed by CHP, İYİ Party and Felicity Party like it did prior to the elections in 2018. Instead, it represents a political block against the People’s Alliance that can reach consensus on a common denominator.
Who is pleased with the presidential system in Turkey today? 61 percent of society prefers the parliamentary system as a form of governance. The change in the government system will serve as one of the opposition’s main issues in its communication as we approach the next election.
42 percent of Turkish people believe the economy will be stronger next year. What is more, those who couldn’t even pay the minimum amount of their credit card bills last month, 58 percent believed that the economic situation would improve next year. Unfortunately, there is a misguided feeling of optimism around.
There are two reasons why many jobs will not come back. First, some businesses will not reopen in the wake of this calamity. Second, consumer demand is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic times for a while.
In the latest surveys more than 50% of the participants stated that, even once the pandemic is over, they will go to the shopping mall less than they did prior to the pandemic. Statistics from China demonstrate similar consumer trends. It will take some time for consumer habits to get back to normal.
Upon asking whether or not Turkey should borrow from the IMF in order to alleviate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis, only 30.8% of participants agreed, while the remaining 69.2% disagreed. The fact remains that the IMF is still negatively connoted amongst Turkish people.
As conditions worsen for the households, prospects get darker. It appears that the first wave of the health crisis will be over soon. Brace yourself for the economic downturn that it will leave its wake. That is of course until the pandemic’s second wave.
Some 50 percent of Turkish people disagree with President Erdoğan's donation campaign and believe that the government should be supporting the people and not the other way around. Some 41 percent disagree with the government's move to freeze CHP-led municipalities' donation campaigns while only 35 percent support the decision.
In the early days of March, our polling results suggested that 46% of the population in Turkey would not get vaccinated if a vaccine was developed against COVID-19. Luckily, this indifference to the virus has evolved for the better between March and now. As we enter the most critical two weeks of the pandemic in Turkey, the numbers with respect to self-isolation and precautions offer more hope.
The move by the government to freeze the donation accounts of municipalities will not benefit anyone.It is not the public that is getting polarized, it is the politics. And those who polarize will lose this race.
Like all governments around the world, the Turkish government has a number of tough calls to make during this time of public health turned economic crisis. So far, the Turkish government seems to have opted to keep up economic activity as long as it can, before it imposes a total lockdown.
Only one in two people in Turkey are worried about Coronavirus, while close to 20 percent stated that they were “neither worried nor unworried”. More strikingly, despite the warnings only 48 percent do not shake hands while only 49 percent do not kiss when seeing someone.
Amid growing tensions between Turkey and Russia on the Syrian battlefront, we asked respondents to rate the countries and international organizations based on how much they trust them. The bottom line of this story is that Turkish society has lost faith in its allies and neighbors.
The Turkish public is focused on Idlib. Naturally so. The rising number of martyrs and the difficulty to see an definitive end in sight to conflict worries many people. The risk of losing Turkish soldiers is the chief concern by 47.1% among Turkish public. If the heavy Turkish casualties continue to rise, the government might risk losing domestic support.
While one usually knows what people like about their preferred political parties, one tends to be less aware of what voters dislike about their parties. An investigation into this by TurkiyeRaporu.com showed that Turkey's two largest parties also have the most disgruntled base.
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.
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.
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.
Duvar English’s editor-in-chief Cansu Çamlıbel and pollster Can Selçuki discuss the underlying factors behind the recent moves of Turkey's ruling alliance which paves the way for further polarization in politics as the country enters the final months of 2020. They also analyze the effects of the sharp decline of the Turkish Lira against foreign currencies over public's perception.
Dinçer Demirkent writes: Interior Minister Soylu said that the head of the Constitutional Court would be unable to commute to work without his protection team. What he meant was that he was the Minister who assigned the security team to the judge, implying he might just remove them. By doing so, Süleyman Soylu openly violates the article 138 of the Turkish Constitution; basic principle for the independence of the judiciary.
The Kızılırmak Delta Wetland and Bird Sanctuary in the Black Sea province of Samsun has observed raging fires since the reversal of its "protected area" status. While a part of the delta was transferred to the property of the government, environmentalists suspect the fires were started intentionally.
Local medical device companies have warned the Turkish Health Ministry that if debts owed by the government hospitals remain unpaid, there could be a “disruption in the health services” starting as early as in October. The Turkish Medical Equipment and Devices Manufacturers Association (TÜDER) has said that local medical firms have been waiting for the last 16 months to get their payment which has reached to around $26 billion Turkish Liras ($3.4 billion) in total.
Turkish Justice Ministry has dismissed a parliamentary question on the release of a rapist soldier for being "offensive." Uca in her question asked Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül to reveal the reason for why former specialized sergeant Musa Orhan was released despite raping İpek Er. The ministry said that the question can be accepted if the terms found "crude and offensive" are removed.
Turkey reportedly didn't apprehend ISIS militant Yunus Durmaz responsible for deadly attacks in Turkey despite determining his location 19 times between April 29 and May 19, 2016. Durmaz, who was sought over the attacks in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, the Suruç district of the southeastern province of Urfa, the capital Ankara and Istanbul's Taksim, blew himself up during a police raid on an ISIS cell in 2016.
An 80-year-old inmate who was imprisoned for holding a Muslim memorial service in Kurdish died on Sept. 23, without being allowed to see his family, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu said. The old man's conviction should have been delayed in the first place since he was ill, the deputy added.
Former Zaman daily columnist Mümtazer Türköne has been released from jail following Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli's call for his retrial. Türköne's lawyer Figen Çalıkuşu has said she believes the release came after the Court of Cassation overturned the sentence following an appeal.
Turkey will not make any concessions over its claims in the eastern Mediterranean, said a statement issued following the country's National Security Council (MGK) meeting. “It has been once again emphasized that Turkey will not make a concession with regards to its rights and interests on land, sea or in the air, as has been the case up until today,” the statement read.
A group of lawyers close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have submitted their application to the Turkish Bar Associations (TBB) to form a second bar association in Istanbul. The group has collected just over 2,000 signatures required to establish their own association as per a new legislation which was passed by Turkish parliament in July of this year.
The trial into the murder of a 12-year-old girl shot dead on Oct. 12, 2015 in Diyarbakır during a curfew, has been put on hold following the Interior Ministry's refusal to grant permission for the prosecution of the police officer in question.
The Turkish government is reportedly planning to hand prison sentences between two months and a year to those violating quarantine rules based on an article of the Turkish Penal Code, which regulates behavior in violation of the measures against contagious diseases. The country on Sept. 23 announced the death toll as 72 - its highest since the beginning of May.
Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) police teams on Sept. 24 demolished some restaurants and cafes on Heybeliada on the grounds that they were unlicensed. Café owners slammed the İBB's move saying that they had already paid an "occupancy fee" to the local management to use the lands in question.
Turkey's Central Bank unexpectedly hiked interest rates on Sept. 24, triggering an improvement in the lira's value against the dollar. The Turkish Lira has sunk to record lows over the past month as Ankara's currency interventions proved futile.
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has said that former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş will carry the indictments into him as medals, as he commented on a recent visit by a chief public prosecutor to the presidential palace. "We know that there are prosecutors lined up in front of Erdoğan," the CHP leader said.
Construction on Turkey's first nuclear power plant is ongoing amid reports of unpaid wages, the general manager said on Sept. 23. While management said it was contract companies that were lagging behind on payments, they launched an investigation into the wages nonetheless.
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield has said debts owed by Turkish government hospitals to American pharmaceutical companies had risen to around $2.3 billion, warning that there will be consequences for non-payment of debt or reductions in payment. "Companies will consider departing the Turkish market or will reduce exposure to Turkish market. This is not a direction which serves the interests of Turkey," he said on Sept. 23.
The Turkish Health Ministry is under scrutiny over the number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases it announces daily. "This is not the exact number of positive cases. However, this is not the number of patients receiving treatment at hospitals only," the ministry reportedly told Prof. Mehmet Ceyhan, prompting confusion on what the numbers on the daily coronavirus chart mean.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has cautioned Turkey against further deployment of equipment from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei on its soil, saying it would complicate the military cooperation between the two NATO allies. The U.S. believes Huawei Technologies’ apparatus could be used for espionage.
CHP Group Deputy Chair Özgür Özel has asked the government to reveal who received millions of dollars of bribe from shady Iranian-Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab. "It's said that $80 million of this money was given to a single politician. Will the Financial Crime Investigation Board, Turkish Treasury, Court of Accounts and other auditors be mobilized?" Özel asked.
Turkey on Sept. 23 recorded more than 70 daily coronavirus deaths for the first time since May. Seventy two people died over the past 24 hours due to the COVID-19 in Turkey, while 1,767 new cases were diagnosed, according to the daily figures the Health Ministry announced on a COVID-19 dedicated website on Sept. 23.
Turkey's state-owned Halkbank has urged a judge to dismiss a U.S. indictment accusing the bank of helping Iran evade American sanctions. At a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 18, a lawyer for Halkbank said its status as a Turkish “instrumentality” shielded it from prosecution because of sovereign immunity.
U.S. tech giant Amazon offered up its speed-delivery subscription to Turkish consumers on Sept. 15. The monthly subscription fee was set for 7.99 Turkish Liras, about one dollar with the current exchange rates.
Turkey's unemployment rate rose to 13.4 percent. and participation edged up in the May-July period in which a coronavirus lockdown was lifted and a ban on layoffs remained in place, data showed on Sept. 10, painting a clearer picture of the pandemic's fallout.
Turkish Airlines (THY) observed a drop of almost 65 percent in the number of August travelers compared to the year before. Domestic flights saw a smaller drop of 47.1 percent, while international flights shrank by 75.4 percent, THY said.
Istanbulites will select the new face of Taksim Square from among three projects as part of the Istanbul Municipality's plans to renovate the area. Şerif Süveydan, Bünyamin Derman and Kutlu İnanç Bal were the winners in the contest that was held by Istanbul Planning Agency and Istanbul Municipality's Department of Cultural Assets.
The Odunpazarı Modern Museum in western Eskişehir won the award for "international project of the year over £1m" at the London Museums+Heritage Awards. The museum opened its doors just over a year ago in the city's ancient Odunpazarı neighborhood.
The 48th Istanbul Music Festival will be held online, streaming pre-recorded performances in historical venues. Starting on Sept. 18, the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) will make available the performances that honor composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
Heavy presence of the Asian tiger mosquito was detected in four Istanbul districts, concerning locals as the bug can carry malaria, the Zika virus and encephalitis. The invasive species have been increasing in population around Istanbul in the past decade, an Istanbul University veterinarian said.
Ali Demir writes: So the property of the local non-Muslims collapsed, and what happened? Nothing! The whole country is now composed of non-local foreigners. The greedy tailor apprentice that murdered his master could not sew a jacket, and will never be able to.