Turkey's governing bloc still has more than 50 percent of votes: Poll company director
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Although the opposition bloc gained a psychological advantage as it is set to win in some key cities, the votes of the governing coalition remain at 51 percent, a prominent pollster has said. Even though the loyal voters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) feel affected by economic difficulties, they could not pass across to the other side, according to Bekir Ağırdır, the general director of research company Konda.
What are your observations about the result?
For the first time in years the moral upper hand and psychological advantage have passed to the opposition. This is related to their gain in Ankara and Istanbul. But this has not come thanks to the success of the opposition’s campaign or that they had successful candidates, it came as a result of the rhetoric based on “the survival of the nation” used by the governing bloc. This rhetoric has consolidated the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) voters who, because of the identity politics and the polarization that they find themselves squeezed into, cannot vote for the governing bloc.
They have consolidated on being against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. These voters had become very resentful after the June 24  presidential elections, and there was an overwhelming tendency not to go to the ballot boxes as a reaction.
But the campaign of the governing bloc consolidated them over a feeling of opposition.
The third observation is that despite everything the governing bloc is still over 50 percent. And this shows how the polarization and the situation of being boxed into identities remain strong in Turkey.
What we see is not an increase in the votes of the CHP –İYİ (Good) Party but a decrease in the votes of Justice and Development Party (AKP)/Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) coalition.
Otherwise, there is no particular numeric outcome apart from the HDP votes being added to this side [opposition alliance].
The forth observation is that in places where there were no HDP candidates, HDP voters assumed a key role not because they are convinced about the candidates of the opposition alliance but they acted with the feeling of “we need to stop Erdoğan.”
On June 24, the total votes of the nation alliance constitute 33 percent, now it is 37 percent. This additional 4 percent did not come as a result of a defection from the AKP or MHP. It came as a result of the voters of the HDP where the HDP has not shown a candidate.
Therefore, this is actually a repeat of the June 24 picture, or of the 2015 and 2017 elections.
In five years’ time we went to the ballot boxes seven times and there is no numerical change.
Yes, but at the end, due to the possible victory in Ankara and Istanbul, the advantage is with the opposition alliance. And they also won in some other big cities like Antalya and Adana.
I have always repeated that we have three Turkeys. The first is the industrialized, urbanized geography where urban practices are strong, and the economic dynamics and the actors are strong enough. The votes of the two blocs in this geography are equal. We should not assume that just because the opposition is set to win in Ankara and Istanbul and won in Adana that the AKP has gone back in terms of votes. The vote ratio is 47 to 47.
In some cities the mayors have changed, but in the rest of the country, with regions which need the state’s economic support to develop, where the local actors are not strong enough and where conservative lifestyles are still strong, the AKP is still the first party. The third part is the regions populated overwhelmingly by Kurds. Over there, there is some decrease in HDP votes, but no increase in AKP votes. This is because they have not gone to the ballot boxes.
The abstention overall in Turkey is 15 to 16 percent, whereas in that region it is 21 percent.
All over Turkey, the percentage of invalid votes is 3 percent, but in that region it is 4.5 percent. In other words, HDP voters are not returning to the AKP.
Do I get it right, the political landscape has not changed that much you say?
HDP voters have acted together with the opposition bloc out of an anti-AKP feeling and the mayors have changed by around 20,000 votes.
People [supporters of the opposition] needed to be hopeful; the opposition needed to be hopeful. They are filled with that feeling, and this is good, this is to the benefit of the country. So it is O.K. to be excited, but this is not like “as the opposition we won the power and the government has failed.”
In the past, whenever there were economic strains, the governing party paid and lost in the elections. Do you agree that this time, in contrast to past examples, there was no such consequence?
This is absolutely correct because the polarization is so strong. In the course of the last five years there is a strong leaning especially on the governing bloc towards identity politics. Everyone is boxed in their identity. That’s why even when the prices in the market hurt, they cannot pass across to the other side due to their identity.
In these local elections, what has been the determining factor was the negative identity. A voter is not blind to economic problems and this creates questioning. The voters won’t just tolerate the AKP just because they are pious. But while they see the prices, the unemployment risk and so on, the anti-identity feeling is so strong that they just cannot vote for the CHP. That’s why I say this is not the success of the opposition. It is the counter-reaction created by the governing bloc. A nationalist İYİ Party supporter and a Kurdish voter who won’t normally come together to drink tea voted for the same candidate. People did not vote out of love for their party but out of hate to other parties. That’s what I mean about negative identity.
That’s why if the opposition bloc thinks “that’s it, the governing coalition is going down the hill in the urban industrialized area,” they are wrong.
The numbers are there and therefore there is not a particular thing that can make this picture change in three months or three years.
Turkey needs to overcome this polarization.
There is an overwhelming conviction that the MHP seems to come out as the winner this side.
Correct. The MHP’s weight has increased and will increase over the governing coalition. Its weight has already increased visibly after the last two elections. In 31 cities, representing 20 percent of the electorate, where there were no alliance between the AKP and MHP, the former lost 7 points and the MHP gained 5.5 points compared to the June 24 elections. Those affected by the economic crisis went to the MHP but remained in the coalition bloc precisely because of identity politics. The MHP is both an opportunity and a paradox for the AKP. On the one side, it is an alternative that enables the AKP to bring its voters to the ballot box, but a paradox because the MHP is getting stronger. If you ask me, of the 51 percent of the votes that are usually attributed to the governing bloc, 38 percent belongs to the AKP and the minimum 13 percent belongs to the MHP.
Is there no credit to be given to the opposition alliance?
Their skill has been to avoid making a mistake in Ankara and Istanbul. The opposition insisted that it was about local politics despite the government’s rhetoric that it was about the state’s survival.
The opposition did not fall into that trap.
What will come out of the current controversy over invalid votes?
I don’t think it will make a difference. My observation is that the organization of the AKP has failed. They were not in the field.
WHO İS BEKİR AĞIRDIR?
Bekir Ağırdır is the general director of the Istanbul-based research company Konda.
He was born in 1956 in Çal, Denizli, later graduating from the Department of Business Administration at Ankara’s Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ).
Ağırdır worked at the computing service department of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) between 1979 and 1980, and then at Bilsan Bilgisayar Malzemeleri A.Ş. between 1980 and 1984.
He later worked as the CEO of Meteksan LLC. and of Pırıntaş Bilgisayar Malzemeleri ve Basım San. A.Ş., as well as the vice CEO of Atılım Kağıt ve Defter Sanayi A.Ş.
Between 2003 and 2005, Ağırdır worked at the History Foundation of Turkey, first as a coordinator and then as director general.
He is also the founder of the Democratic Republican Program.