Survey reveals growing public apprehension over democratic process
Anti-government protesters collect stones from hand to hand to strengthen a barricade in İstanbul June 16, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
A recent survey by the MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center reveals that the Turkish public is increasingly concerned about the government encroachment into democratic space with a perception of lifestyle interference gaining in strength.
In the nationwide survey, the government scored low on democratic credentials as almost half of respondents (49.9 percent) said the government is moving toward an authoritarian and repressive style of governance, while 36 percent said the government is progressing on further democratization; 14.2 percent did not respond or said they do not have any opinion on that issue.
People who thought the government is interfering into their lifestyle constituted a majority with 54.4 percent against those who think otherwise with 40.4 percent. In addition, 49.7 percent of respondents said they have no concerns about revealing their political views, while 46.7 percent said they are worried about expressing their views.
With regard to the Gezi park protests, the survey revealed that the Turkish public billed the escalation of the two-week-long protest movement to the government in general and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in particular.
The poll also seemed to suggest that the public's support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has come down some 11 percent in June 2013 compared to the same month a year ago, while the popularity of Erdoğan took a blow with a 7 percent drop in his popularity in just a month. Most people see Erdoğan's tone as harsh and confrontational. The government's Syrian policy remains unpopular as well.
Yet the AK Party is still the most popular party among the electorate, and if elections were held tomorrow, it would still lead the polls.
When asked to identify the reason for the start and later escalation of the protests, 20.1 percent of respondents in the MetroPOLL survey said the government was to be blamed for that followed by Erdoğan whom 16.9 percent of those polled identified as the cause.
Since Erdoğan also represents the government as the prime minister, the survey concludes that the public believes the government mishandled the protests and let it escalate into nationwide protests.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), was named as the third reason for the cause of protests by 9.5 percent of respondents. The CHP has not officially endorsed the protests and tried to put distance between itself and demonstrations that turned into violence and vandalism later. However, various statements by Kılıçdaroğlu and other CHP leaders have clearly indicated the party's support for protests albeit unofficially.
Government claims that external forces, terror groups, provocateurs and social media actually instigated protests were not found to be credible by most respondents. Only 3.2 percent of respondents said unidentified external or internal powers were behind the protests, while 1.8 percent said provocateurs and instigators provoked the protests. Those who believe media or social media were behind the incidents ranked lowest in the survey with 0.6 percent.
The MetroPOLL survey indicated that most people found Erdoğan's tone and remarks about the Gezi Park protests to be “confrontational and provocative” (with 49.6 percent), while a significant percentage (31.4 percent) said it was “conciliatory and soothing.” The remainder (19 percent) either did not respond to the question or said they had no opinion on that.
The survey also made clear that the public overwhelmingly disapproves of government plans to rebuild an old military barracks in Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park area, with 62.9 percent of respondents saying they want to see the green space remain intact, while 23.3 percent support the restoration of the old barracks. Interestingly enough, a majority of those who said they voted for the ruling AK Party were against the building plans; 41.6 percent of people who voted for the AK Party in the June 2011 elections said they opposed the government plans, while 38.3 of AK Party supporters said they favor the plans.
The public divided almost evenly on the legitimacy of the protest movement that turned into nationwide demonstrations; 44.4 percent said they found the people's reactions were justified, while 45.5 percent disagreed with that. The same pattern was also recorded on responses to a question on whether the police had used excessive force against protestors. But a majority (51.2 percent) said those who are responsible for using excessive force must resign.
Most polled (51.7 percent) said the protests will impact how they vote in upcoming local elections, set for March 2014.
The media was also blamed by most people surveyed by the polling company for not providing fair coverage of the protests although reasons may differ according to party affiliation breakdowns. Overall, 62.1 percent of respondents said the media did not cover events fairly. The AK Party blamed the media for exaggerating events or providing biased reporting against the government, while the CHP accused the media of censorship.
The majority of those surveyed also said they believe the press is not free in Turkey, with 53.3 percent versus 41.1 percent.
A majority of people in Turkey did not approve of the government's policy with regard to Syria, with 54.2 percent saying that they oppose the Syrian policy, while only 27.4 percent favor the government position. Half of surveyed individuals (49.9 percent) were against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's staying in power, however, while only 6.2 percent said they favored him staying; 43.9 percent said they did not care about Assad's prospects one way or another. The effect of the Reyhanlı bombing incident last month that killed 53 people has already been felt with 45.7 percent versus 38.5 percent blaming the government for negligence.
Among other questions posed to respondents was a query about a possible switch to a presidential system. Almost 43 percent said Turkey should not switch to a presidential system, with 30.9 percent declaring their support for a presidential system. In April polling data by MetroPOLL, support for a presidential system was 35.2 percent.
The adoption of a presidential system has been a common source of debate in Turkey. Prime Minister Erdoğan, who supports a presidential system, frequently brings the issue to public attention, and many have speculated that he hopes to become Turkey's first president under a new presidential system.
The public overwhelmingly supports naming the third bridge to be built over the Bosporus in İstanbul after Yavuz Sultan Selim, an Ottoman sultan, with 63.5 percent approving and 26.9 percent disapproving. Some of Turkey's Alevis protested the bridge's name, claiming that Selim was responsible for the brutal massacre of Alevis in the early part of the 16th century. Historians dispute those claims, however, saying that many killings happened on both sides as a result of a war between Persians and Turks at the time.
MetroPOLL also questioned respondents on ongoing efforts to draft a new constitution. The new constitution is being drafted by the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission in Parliament, which has three members from each of the four political parties represented in Parliament. However, members of the commission have stark differences of opinion on several topics, which has made it hard to complete the new document.
There are now debates surrounding whether or not the parliamentary Constitutional Reconciliation Commission will fail to complete its version of a draft constitution and whether the AK Party might cooperate with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) on the new document if the CHP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) do not lend their support to the ruling party for the new constitution.
A full 59.8 percent said they would not approve of the AK Party cooperating with the BDP on the new constitution. Only 29.6 percent said they would approve of such cooperation.
Moreover, 41.7 percent said Turkey needs a new political party, while 52.8 percent said they disagree with that.
Pollsters also questioned respondents about their voting preferences. Asked which political party they would vote for if general elections were held this Sunday, 35.3 percent said they would vote for the AK Party. According to the poll, the CHP would receive 22.7 percent of the vote. The MHP would receive 14.5 percent of the vote, while the BDP would get 6.2 percent. In addition, 7.6 percent said they are undecided, while 5.9 percent did not respond. Only five percent of votes went into other smaller parties while 2.8 percent was counted as protest vote according to survey. MetroPOLL said splitting the undecided votes at the ballot box would provide additional support for the political parties.
According to the survey, 72.5 percent of the respondents said they like President Abdullah Gül most among existing political figures. Gül was followed by Erdoğan with 53.5 percent, Kılıçdaroğlu 26.7 percent and Devlet Bahçeli 29.3 percent. Erdoğan lost almost 7 percentage points from the April poll conducted by MetroPOLL.
The poll was conducted from June 3-12 by telephone among a random national sampling of 2,818 adults residing in cities, towns and villages. The margin of error for the overall poll is 2 percentage points, and the confidence level is 95 percent.