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January 22, 2013, Tuesday

Undue confusion, unnecessary tension

When I met Tarhan Erdem, founder of the respected polling company Konda Arastirma Ve Danismanlik (KONDA), at the funeral of our colleague Mehmet Ali Birand, I asked whether the recent front page story in the Sabah daily on party polls was entirely true. “Yes, all of it,” was his response.

The story referred to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's recent behind-closed-doors meeting with the Justice and Development Party's (AKP) local leaders, where he had revealed the data, not public, that KONDA compiled in its latest “barometer poll” conducted in 28 provinces on 2,511 people. It showed the following share of the vote: AKP 53.6 percent, Republican People's Party (CHP) 21.7, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) 12.3 and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) 7.2 percent.   

“It could move plus or minus two points in January at the most,” added Erdem.

I would claim that after the new dialogue process launched, it may have gone up to around 55 percent. Even if it has not, the reliable KONDA poll shows much more about the state of the CHP than the other three parties, which are consistent and firm.

So, the political ground beneath the AKP is solid.

Let us move to the economy. As summarized by Ümit İzmen, a former associate of the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD) and a columnist with the Radikal daily, the days of extreme volatility and unpredictability are long gone.

The Turkish lira is powerful, stable. Inflation is down from 10.5 percent (2011) to 6.2 percent by the end of 2012. Industrial production as of November was 3 percent. Interest rates, already low in 2011, are even lower. Unemployment rate remains constant, below 10 percent. The current account deficit (CAD) was down from $70 billion to $45 billion as of late November. Turkey's international reserve went up from $6 billion (2011) to $24 billion (2012).

So, the economic ground underpinning AKP rule also remains rock solid.

Both cases of solid ground constitute a unique opportunity for Erdoğan and his team to move ahead with a much higher rate of reform. The polls do not mean a final social vote for what has been achieved so far, but open, generous credit for what remains to be done.

Yet, we ask questions. The recent police raids and detentions of a number of lawyers -- linked to the case of outlawed organization the Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) -- signals a deep confusion about what the limitations of law enforcement and legal investigations are. The fact that those arrested are defense lawyers raises eyebrows here as well as abroad about the respect for the right to adequate representation and whether or not Turkey remains committed to international treaties on human rights. This incident will, unless explained in full by the authorities immediately, be adding to the bad images resurfacing about Ankara for some time.

Add to this the fact that this and next week we will be witnessing several meetings and declarations about the state of freedom of expression in key corners of the world.

What slows down the government in easing the undue tensions? Why the strongly perceived oversights in security operations, such harsh measures in detentions as a norm, seemingly targeting people critical or skeptical of the AKP's policies? It certainly is puzzling.

The explanation is simpler than we think: There are ongoing divisions of views, sharp differences of opinion and a tug-of-war within the Cabinet, particularly on the poisonous Counterterrorism Law (TMK). It is obvious that the launch of a new dialogue process has strengthened the position of the doves and reformers therein, but a recent internal picture about the so-called “Human Rights Action Plan,” which is aimed to go even beyond the so-called fourth judicial reform package, is of a standoff between some ministers.

What is not simple to understand is why Erdoğan, as powerful and popular as he is, prefers to play ball again in the midfield and waste time with rhetoric, aimed at the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), alternating between words on peace and old-style threats. Nobody knows the answer but him.

Previous articles of the columnist