Poll: Yea-sayers far ahead of reform opponents in referendum

Poll: Yea-sayers far ahead of reform opponents in referendum

August 14, 2010, Saturday/ 16:10:00/ BETÜL AKKAYA DEMİRBAŞ
Nearly 50 percent of voters plan to support the government's constitutional amendment package in the Sept. 12 referendum, while the opponents of the package make up around one-third of voters, the latest results of a monthly opinion poll have shown.

The Ankara-based MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center conducted a survey on the nation's expected voting behavior in the referendum and its perception of the recent crisis between the government and the military during the Supreme Military Council (YAŞ) meeting. The survey's chief question was on the approaching referendum. According to the survey, 49.6 percent of those polled will vote for the planned changes to the Constitution in the referendum. Out of all respondents, 33.6 percent will vote against the reform package. Support for the package is likely to increase at the ballot box through the division of the vote of those who are undecided, which the survey shows to be around 15 percent.

The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was hoping to replace the current Constitution, a remnant of Turkey's 1980 coup d'état, when it swept to power in 2002. It drafted a document in 2007, but failed to convince the opposition parties to support it. Undeterred, the party prepared a list of partial amendments -- including vital changes to the Constitution's most problematic articles. The amendments will be put to a public referendum on Sept. 12.

According to a MetroPOLL survey, 49.6 percent of those polled will vote for the planned changes to the Constitution in the referendum on Sept. 12. Out of all respondents, 33.6 percent said they will vote against the reform package

The existing Constitution, ratified in 1982 in a referendum after a military coup two years earlier, has frequently been at the center of harsh criticism as it fails to meet the needs of today's world and restricts fundamental rights and freedoms.

The figures show a 5.5 percent increase for the yes votes when compared with the results of a MetroPOLL survey in late May. Pollsters believe the main reason for the increase is the prime minister’s strong opposition to the promotion of members of the military on trial during last week’s YAŞ meetings.

The survey also revealed the divergence of opinion between the administrations of opposition parties and their grass roots. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) are strongly opposed to the constitutional amendments. According to the survey, 38.7 percent of Turkish nationalists (MHP grass roots) and 64 percent of Kurdish nationalists (BDP grass roots) plan to vote in favor of the reform package in the referendum.

Respondents were also asked about the prime minister’s position during the YAŞ meetings. During the meetings the General Staff was hoping to promote military generals who are accused of coup-related activities and other criminal acts, saying military tradition requires their promotion. Erdoğan, however, strongly objected to the General Staff’s plans, recalling that the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) official policy does not allow the advancement of a member of the military to a higher rank if he is on trial. The YAŞ meetings continued in an atmosphere of tension between the General Staff and the prime minister. Erdoğan emerged victorious from the days-long negotiations and the generals on trial were eventually not promoted.

The prime minister’s victory was interpreted by many observers as a sound step toward the normalization of civilian and military ties. The Turkish military, which has for a long time considered itself the guardian of the state and the regime, was forced to comply with the civilian will like in many democratic countries.

This year’s Supreme Military Council meeting, held on Aug. 1-4, was scene to a rift between the civilian and military wings over the appointment of top commanders.

More than 48 percent of those polled said they supported Erdoğan’s position toward the military during the YAŞ meetings. Nearly 33 percent, however, disagreed, and 19 percent declined to comment. Respondents also slammed CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu due to his ideas regarding the AK Party government’s opposition to military traditions shaping YAŞ promotions. Kılıçdaroğlu had said the military has its own traditions and the government should not meddle with them. Around 52 percent of the respondents said the CHP leader was wrong in his evaluations while 36.4 percent voiced support for Kılıçdaroğlu.

The CHP has long been considered a strong supporter of the military, therefore the status quo. It voiced support for indirect military intervention in politics, and even coups d’état. The main opposition party has, for this reason, been the center of harsh criticism by observers.

Asked whether they agree with the opinion that the military should absolutely comply with the government in democratic countries, 56.5 percent said “yes.” Over 32 percent, however, responded “no.”

What if elections were held today?

Pollsters also questioned the respondents about their voting behavior. If parliamentary elections were held today, 43.1 percent of those polled said they would vote for the AK Party, a figure higher than in the March 2009 local elections, in which the ruling party won around 39 percent of the vote. This figure is likely to increase at the ballot box for the AK Party, through the split of the vote of those who are undecided, which the survey shows to be more than 15 percent.

The CHP would receive 24.5 percent of votes cast. The figure shows that the main opposition party has been unable to maintain its rising popularity among voters since the election of Kılıçdaroğlu as the party leader. Polls conducted shortly after his election suggested that the CHP was likely to garner over 30 percent of the national vote in the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for July 2011. According to MetroPOLL, the MHP would receive 9.4 percent of votes cast while the BDP would get 3.5 percent.

Trust in state institutions, leaders

Another question directed at respondents concerned their trust in the state institutions. Respondents said they trust the police force most, which was followed -- respectively -- by the president’s office, Parliament, the prime minister’s office, the government, the General Staff, the Constitutional Court and other courts.

Pollsters said the General Staff and the Constitutional Court recorded the lowest in the surveys of the past three years. The main reason is the recent tension between the government and the military and the judiciary. The military and the judiciary suffered from a loss of credibility and prestige in the eyes of the public after their polemics with the government.

Upon the question of which of the existing political party leaders they trusted the most, 46 percent of respondents said they trusted Erdoğan the most, a figure higher than in a previous survey. Erdoğan was followed by the CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu with 20.9 percent and the MHP’s Devlet Bahçeli with 5.7 percent.

The poll was conducted from Aug. 5 to 11 by telephone among a random national sampling of 1,516 adults residing in cities, towns and villages. The margin of error for the overall poll is 2.5 percentage points, at a 95 percent confidence level.

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