Analysts: Sharp decline in support for opposition endangers democracy

September 05, 2008, Friday/ 19:28:00
Analysts have said the gradually shrinking public support for opposition parties is a serious threat to Turkish democracy, which recently received a serious blow from a closure case against the country's ruling party.

Pointing to a recent opinion poll on the current political situation in Turkey showing that the opposition parties continue to suffer from declining popularity with the public, analysts stressed that Turkish democracy is heading in a dangerous direction as a democracy without a strong opposition is no different than totalitarianism. The common belief is that unless opposition parties in Turkey reinvent themselves and assume their genuine role of fighting the flawed policies of the ruling party through democratic means, Turkish democracy will not see any progress and may even regress.

The Social and Political Situation in Turkey survey, conducted in late August by the Ankara-based Metropoll Strategic & Social Research Center, revealed that there was a sharp decline in less than a month in the public support for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). According to the survey, a clear majority of Turkish society supports Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

Asked who they would vote for if there was an election today, 50.9 percent of respondents said they would vote for the AK Party. The figure demonstrated the ruling party's considerable increase in popularity in less than a month, as around 42 percent of those polled had said in early August they would vote for the AK Party if parliamentary elections were to be held the day of the poll.

The survey showed the CHP and the MHP would remain below the election threshold should general elections be held on the poll date. Only 9.5 percent of respondents said they would vote for the CHP, while 6.6 percent said they would favor the MHP and 2.6 percent said they would vote for the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

The survey also revealed that Turkey's opposition has suffered from a loss of popularity with the public, as 13.9 percent of respondents had said in the previous poll that they would vote for the CHP and 8.4 percent for the MHP.

"This survey is an indicator of disaster for Turkish democracy," said Professor Özer Sencar, one of the administrators of the poll.

Sencar, who spoke to Today's Zaman on the phone, stressed that opposition parties are a sine qua non for democracies. "There is someone in power in all regimes. But opposition parties exist solely in democracies. Constant shrinking of public support for opposition parties hint that Turkish democracy has entered a dangerous process. However, both the CHP and the MHP turn a blind eye to this process," he noted.

Mehmet Altan, a well-respected intellectual and columnist for the Star daily, agreed and said people supporting a single political party would mean a threat to democracy.

"Opposition parties in Turkey advocate an old-fashioned and nonfunctioning system in the country. They oppose any change and try to protect the status quo. This is a dangerous approach. An opposition which advocates the status quo has no chance of surviving in our country," he remarked.

Sencar stated that one factor resulting in an increase in the AK Party's popularity and the opposition parties' loss thereof with the people is the public's dislike of party closures.

A closure case filed against the AK Party on grounds that it was engaged in anti-secular activities triggered a negative reaction within society, with several nongovernmental organizations organizing mass rallies in which party closures and all sorts of anti-democratic intervention in politics were condemned.

The rejection of the AK Party case was interpreted by many as a victory for democracy, which didn't bow to the pressure of anti-democratic practices.

"Our people don't want to witness any more military interventions. They demonstrated a strong reaction against anti-democratic initiatives. Indeed, this is what the survey revealed. People want opposition and ruling parties to settle accounts at the ballot box. They favor the AK Party at the ballot box due to the political and economic stability it has brought to the country. Unless the CHP and the MHP stop trying to gain popularity by preying on the weaknesses of another party, their public support will continue to decrease," said Sencar.

Altan stated that a new opposition party will soon emerge in the Turkish political scene. "I believe this will be a strong and reformist one. It will contribute to the country embracing a brighter and more stable future," he added.

Opposition distances itself from society

Analysts' concern for the direction Turkish democracy appears to be taking is shared by AK Party officials as well, who say one of the main problems is that opposition parties have been distancing themselves from society.

Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek emphasized that there is an opposition crisis in Turkey. "There is no party in our country for which people can vote except the AK Party. However, this is not a good situation for democracy. Democracies which lack a strong opposition cannot function in a healthy manner. If the opposition parties in Turkey had not distanced themselves from society, this wouldn't be the case now," he said.

AK Party parliamentary group deputy chairman Nihat Ergün said Turkish opposition parties have a different view of democracy that is not compatible with that of society. "We have witnessed many times that the opposition tries to deny people of their right to elect those who will govern them. You cannot conduct politics by looking down on the people. Political parties are the representatives of the people. They should realize this fact," he remarked. 

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