The worker rally with the broadest turnout that Turkey witnessed in the last couple of years took place on January 19 in Bursa, the hub of the Turkish automotive sector. During their collective bargaining, the “Türk Metal” Union which comprises some 130 thousand metal workers as a part of the labour unions federation of “Türk-İş”, demanded a raise to their salaries that goes beyond the 8 % officially announced inflation rate. Of course, it is not possible to assume that a single rally indicates a certain groundswell that could also affect politics but other omens have emerged for those who don’t turn a blind eye.
A poll that Kadir Has University (KHAS) in Istanbul has made public on January 16, titled “Tendencies in Turkey – 2019”, puts forth interesting data.
Firstly, let’s begin by pointing out that, despite the claims that “polarization has decreased”, half of the poll participants (50.8%) said that they believe there is polarization in the country. The axis of the polarization, however, has shifted according to this research. The secular-religious adversity is still the first polarizing issue that comes to mind, but its bearing has fallen from 51.8% to 43.5% when compared to the previous year. The left-right polarization kept its second place but dropped from 27.1% to 24%. By contrast, the issue of the gap between the poor and the rich has risen from the fourth rank to the third, with the previous year’s 13.7% going up to 20.5% this year.
Of course, the answer to the question about the biggest problem was “terrorism”. However, when we add up the answers that came right after, which were concerned with the high cost of living, the unemployment rate and inflation, we see that with 41.6%, economy-related issues are by far the leading cause for concern. While 31.4% finds President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) economic policies successful, 34.1 % don’t; this means that the highest number is among the 34.5 % who preferred not to give a clear answer to this question.
Such data necessitates us to dig into numbers to understand the shifting balances in politics.
MHP more pro-Erdogan than AKP
The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), led by Devlet Bahçeli, seems to be more pro-Erdogan than Erdogan’s AKP. For example, while 33.8% of AKP members found AKP economic policies successful, MHP members voiced their approval by a considerably higher 40.9%. This means that it was MHP which raised the governing party’s success ratio in the polls. There is no poll looking into whether MHP members are doing better economically than the rest of Turkish citizens or AKP members; therefore, it is more likely that these results stem from Bahçeli’s political and ideological support for President Erdoğan. These results also show how dominant Bahçeli is within MHP.
This situation is not limited to economic policy. For instance, 45.4% of MHP members find AKP’s foreign policy successful while 43.4% of AKP members felt this way. Overall, only 28.5% of the participants were satisfied with the foreign policy, while 33.2% found that it was a failure; in this case, too, the 38.3% that preferred not to state a clear answer wins the first place and this is also a matter worth noting.
The same issue can be seen concerning the answers to the government’s counter-terrorism policies. While AKP members’s support for their government’s counter-terrorism policy has dropped from 70.7 to 52.0 % between 2018 and 2019, the support from MHP ranks rose from 41.1 to 43. 2%. What’s more, the geographical regions that stated the economy as the main issue were Central Anatolia and the Black Sea region, which are the zones that are least affected by terrorism in Turkey, but where nationalist ideology is much more prominent. It almost looks like Erdoğan’s foreign policy and counter-terrorism initiatives satisfied Bahçeli’s MHP more than his own AKP.
If the elections were held today, but also…
To the question of “which party would you vote for if there was to be an election today” in the KHAS poll, 10.4% were indecisive. 40.2% said they would vote for AKP, 33.0% chose the Republican People’s Party (CHP), 9.2% said Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), 8.3% said MHP and the remaining 8.1% said they would go for Good Party (GP). (Former PM Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party (FP) had not yet been found when this poll was carried out.)
The total support for Erdoğan and Bahçeli’s “People’s Alliance”, in this case, stays at 48.5%: this is below the 50% plus-1-vote threshold that Erdoğan needs to get re-elected. On the other hand, votes for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Meral Akşener’s CHP-GP “Nation Alliance” also remain below that barrier. In short, both fronts need to cooperate with other parties and groups to get their candidate elected president.
This means that we need to take a look at permeability and convergence between alliances as well as the “second choice” party preferences: which party will a voter vote for that is not their first party of choice. AKP supporters’ “second party” choice in MHP by 56.4%; MHP members, on the other hand, opt for the AKP as the second choice by 44,6%. In other words, there seems to be an imbalance between alliance parties, which can manifest itself as soon as Bahçeli changes his mind. By contrast, the convergence seems more obvious in the National Alliance: the second choice of 41.6% of CHP members have GP as their second choice, and the rate is nearly proportional for GP which opts for CHP as the second choice by 44.6%.
HDP in one hand, MHP on the other
So what about the Kurdish-problem-focused HDP, which is still seen as the “third party” but which remains below the 10% threshold needed to get into parliament? HDP’s second choice, by 59.8% (nearly an overwhelming 60%), is CHP. The party that HDP members were least likely to support, even less than MHP, was AKP. It looks like if Erdoğan doesn’t re-launch an indirect dialogue process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) incarcerated leader Abdullah Öcalan, he will not be able to ensure any convergence with HDP. And even though nothing is impossible in politics, that still seems like a stretch as long as he’s in alliance with Bahçeli.
Thus the numbers show that Erdoğan depends heavily on Bahçeli to preserve his Presidency. And this means that Erdogan may need to lend an ear to Bahçeli on matters of foreign policy and counter-terrorism more than usual. And we may expect that, in return, Bahçeli will do his best to keep his party members from speaking out against the toll of the high cost of living and unemployment on the population. Recently, he’s been pressing against CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu; his aim might not only be to spoil Kılıçdaroğlu’s alliance with GP’s Akşener, but also to divert the media’s attention away from economic issues. But wherever political agendas shift to, the people’s financial hardships are a fact.
The Social Security Institution (SGK) is not disclosing how many of its employees have been working with minimum wage since 2014; it’s ironic how just around 2014, a parliamentary question posed by MHP, which at the time was not in alliance with AKP, had helped clarify that the rate was 40%. So an optimist might say that at least 40% of the employees are working under the minimum wage, which should normally be an exception. According to the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey, (DİSK) however, that rate is now 43%. This means that about 10 million people are trying to get by with a mere 2340 lira and 70 kurus monthly (approximately $403 by January 2019), and they have to abide by these conditions by fear of unemployment – or, as the metal workers, they’re starting to speak out. If anyone is claiming that this groundswell concerning the economy will not affect politics, they surely have a different scheme in mind.