Deep changes await Turkish political parties after local elections, says prominent pollster
The belief that Turks are indifferent to corruption is a urban legend, says Bekir Ağırdır. If there is no change in voting patterns despite all the developments, it is not the fault of the voters, but the opposition, he adds. Hürriyet photos, Selçuk ŞAMİLOĞLUThe coming municipal elections have turned into a rehearsal for the presidential elections and all political parties will design their strategies according to the outcome of these two elections, according to pollster Bekir Ağırdır. “I am expecting that there will be deep changes in all three parties before the 2015 general elections, Ağırdır told the Daily News, adding that the need for reform in the system will force all parties to rethink.
What’s your take on the general political picture in Turkey?
The general conviction is that there is a contention between the [Justice and Development Party] AKP and the [Fettullah Gülen] Cemaat. But the contention is not between two monolithic blocs. We are getting prepared for a triple election rally. The municipal elections have turned into a dress rehearsal for the presidential elections. Political parties will reposition themselves depending on the results of the local and presidential elections. I am expecting that there will be deep changes in all three parties before the general elections.
How did we end up like that?
On the surface it appears to be a power fight. The problem stems from the fact that the cadres that will be elected after the triple elections and the local and national civil servants that will be appointed by the newly elected politicians will shape the country’s main strategic direction for the next 50 years. The present governing structure is no longer sustainable. This structure is still centralized. It has been shaped by a statist mentality that does not trust its citizen, that tries to administer all life’s dimensions. So it actually doesn’t matter who is in the driver’s seat. At one point it was believed that the AKP would reform the state, but it now appears that it has no such ideological aspiration.
So what you say is that the system is now blocked because there is a deeper structural problem.
Correct. For years we were not able to solve any political or societal problem by means of politics. Politics has been based on conquering the center, but we now see that this structure is unsustainable. So the current issue is a fight about the reconstruction, repair, or reform of the system; about who will do it, how will it be done, with what type of substance, and where this will go. Will it be done by a political party that comes from the tradition of political Islam, or will it be a party on the left? Will it be done by aiming for the EU, or the Shanghai organization?
The system needs reform, but the actors who are supposed to make this reform need a change of mentality too.
The AKP says: powerful state, religious society. The [Nationalist Movement Party] MHP says something else. The cadres that will decide on these options will be formed after these elections and we are approaching a deadly battle. This is because even if we try to ignore the Kurdish problem it won’t fall from our shoulders. We are approaching a crossroads with the EU. There are additional crises like the Syrian one. There are several dynamics at play.
So we are approaching what you recently described as “constructive destruction.”
It could really become constructive destruction if religious conservatives start thinking about the state-religion relationship, about secularism. On the other side, the secular camp needs to do the same thinking. If only we could have a dynamic on both sides that accept each other, that seek the rules of a common life. If only Turkey and especially its conservatives think again about what Europe actually means, because I want to hope that the main reference should be the EU and universal law. If only Turks and Kurds can have a rethink about what needs to be done. If not, these problems and debates will continue for a long time.
What makes you think that there will be new actors or actors with different mentality that can bring about reform?
We have some categorical approaches to political groupings. We think the [Republican People’s Party] CHP is for this or against that, and we tend to approach people as old or new actors within it. But this differentiating of old and new within political actors is no longer valid. Each actor has inside it those who are for the old system but also those who are longing for renewal. These fractures within the actors are now more visible. There will be something called the AKP after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whether he becomes president or not, and it will decide whether it will be more Islamist or become something else.
You said the local elections are a dress rehearsal of the presidential elections. The prime minister also said they would be a test for political parties.
We say different things. Even if the prime minister gets 99 percent of the votes that does not mean people condone everything he does.
After 30 years of migration to the cities, we now have a situation where voters in 11 metropolises constitute 53 percent of the total electorate. Independent of what has been happening, these municipal elections were bound to bring political identities to the forefront, where local issues aren’t talked about, but rather general issues. In addition, we unfortunately have a headache called polarization. So we no longer talk about the municipal assembly in a certain city, but we talk about the votes that the AKP, the CHP and the MHP will get. The votes will show the early signs of presidential elections. If the AKP gets 45 percent or above, this means it will think it can determine by itself who will be the president. If it gets below 40 percent, it will seek alliances. The AKP’s target in these elections is not how many mayors it will win, but rather the percentage of the vote it gets.
The CHP is not so much after the vote percentage, but rather a success story of pushing back against the AKP by winning the election in symbolic places like Istanbul or Ankara. The MHP is not in the competition in the big places, but rather is working in its traditional base. The [Peace and Democracy Party] BDP is focusing on four major cities. If despite all the developments that are deeply affecting our lives we don’t observe radical changes in voter behavior, then that is not the fault of the voters, but rather the lack of competition.
So it is up to the opposition parties to take a look in the mirror. There is a conviction that Turks are indifferent to corruption.
This is wrong and an urban legend. A citizen that gives a bribe might see this as normal and use it as a survival strategy. But when it comes to the common good or public funds, he or she does not pardon it. Polls show that the public believes there is corruption, but they also believe there is an operation ongoing (against the government). But the votes in the municipal elections will not mean that they tolerate corruption. Then, of course, comes the question: Why do the votes not change? It is not the fault of the citizen.
A year ago you said there was high unease in the society, but the people did not channel this anxiety into alternative political parties. So this situation is still valid then.
This is correct. For the past year all the polls show a fluctuation in the AKP’s votes. It comes up, it comes down. But you don’t see another party’s votes increasing. The CHP’s votes are stable. The competition is between the AKP and the citizens. It is like you are stuck on the highway in traffic. You pull the car over to see what will happen, but there is no exit and no turning back, so you decide to continue.