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May 11, 2012, Friday

The AK Party, and 50 percent red line in the sand

At a conference I attended in Boston during February, I asserted that votes for the ruling Justice and Development (AK Party) would fall under 50 percent from the end of April and through May.

At the time I asserted this, votes for the AK Party were at around 55 percent, with a visible upwards trend at that. The truth is, while it would have been risky for any political observer to say that there was stagnancy in votes for the AK Party at that juncture, it was complete madness to assert that they would be falling to under 50 percent in May. But at the same time, it was easy for anyone aware of how political networks effect voter habits to speculate which way the trend would start tilting. And that is precisely what I did.

As far as I have seen, there is sort of a red line border that has developed around 50 percent in the minds of AK Party supporters and political circles, and when one notes that the trend appears to be leading AK Party towards under 50percent, an unbelievable reaction occurs. I think this is connected to the AK Party's idea of entering into the 2014 Presidential election with an “over 50 percent” psychology.

I think the AK Party, in protecting this 50 percent red line in the sand, is following a very smart strategy. Whenever a poll emerges showing the AK Party as under 50 percent, there are a series of polls that come  right after from one or other AK Party media groups, showing that, to the  contrary, the ruling party is in fact maintaining a more than 50 percent popularity rating. In this way then, the 50 percent psychology across the society is protected and supported.

The most recent example of this strategy was visible these past two days. According to research done by the Metropoll group, the AK Party had around a 48 percent level of support in the month of April. But right after these results were made public, AK Party media groups came out with new polling results. One, published by Yalçın Akdoğan in the Star newspaper from the group Pollmark, showed the AK Party as enjoying 52.4 percent voter support during April.

In the coming period, we will see more clearly which way the arrow is pointing, as new results from new polls are published. 

But since it appears that the AK Party will remain in power for at least one more term due to the lack of any sort of effective opposition, why should it matter which way the arrow slides in terms of voter choices?

It is important because the direction taken by said arrow will have a strong effect in determining AK Party policies. The AK Party is a political party that pays close attention to voter trends. And the AK Party leadership, so locked into the “over-50percent” psychology as it is, will of course not want to see the trend go downwards from here. So that if the arrow does actually start showing a downward trend for popularity, this leadership will no doubt start researching the reasons for this, and try to re-shape its own policies therein. All of which is to say, that is why I personally place great importance on these voter trends.

Some of the recent failures that are sure to be reflected in terms of voter trends viz the AK Party include the football match rigging affair, the Uludere incident, the MIT crisis, the lack of success on Syria, the attempts to discharge by the KCK and Ergenekon names, the signals from within AK Party ranks to negotiate with the PKK, and Erdoğan's call to “prevent the waves from February 28 from spreading too far and wide.”  

The AK Party may be able to freeze this downward trend into an upward motion, at least temporarily, by doing things like distributing milk to schools, and backing Koran lessons in schools etc.. But in the mid and long term, in order to keep true voter trends from falling beneath 50percent, the AK Party will have to really make some leading moves in democratization. To wit, the AK Party has managed to maintain its standing up until  now by battling the deep-rooted order, the status quo.

The fact that for awhile, the AK Party has appeared to be in the same flanks as the match-riggers and the trumpeters of the old order has brought about the query on the level of the people of the nation “have their values shifted?” And the appointment of their own people to those large companies' boards is something the people of the nation see and do not approve of. It is just like a Mesut Yılmaz type of leadership from the past. I suppose the AK Party leadership sees another 50percent for the party as guaranteed, if it can tie up the media, quiet down the opposition, and depend on Erdoğan's charisma and a general lack of alternatives. But the truth is, what finished off Mesut Yılmaz' ANAP was the displeasure of those above-mentioned informel networks, and the failure by the ANAP at the time to recognize this. Now we have the AK Party ignoring these signs in the same way. And the displeasures, you can be sure, will be reflected  more strongly onto the AK Party than they ever were onto ANAP, since those networks are more finely intertwined with the AK Party. This is what I based my above-mentioned February analysis on.

The AK Party failures mentioned earlier wounded different networks in different ways. The Uludere event struck a blow to Kurds who are potential AK Party voters, while the MIT crisis hit at the Gülen community. The AK Party's stance on the Fenerbahçe match-rigging scandal, in what appeared to be on the side of the bottle throwers, turned other clubs' fans against them, while its ambivalence on the KCK Ergenekon front shook wide conservative support for them. And as for its silence on the Constitution, this struck a blow at support for the AK Party from liberal intellectual fronts. As for Erdoğan's words about the “waves from February 28 not spreading too far and wide,” these were not widely debated, but they shook up Islamic networks. For all of these reasons, it is not incorrect to expect their to be silent but very deep cracks in the foundations and bedrocks of AK Party voters.

In order to turn this trend around, the AK Party will have to be a leader in debating democratic reforms. And the new Constitution is a great opportunity on this front. If debates on this front center not around secondary subjects such as a presidential system, but rather bring us right to the very foundational and critical topic of democratic reforms, the above-mentioned cracks in voter bedrocks might well be repaired. If, on the other hand, the AK Party does not do all this, they will see voter support drop to around 45 percent by mid August.

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