Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, the former Family Minister of the ruling Justice and Development (AKP) government, is upset. Because she finds the timing of the recent debate on the Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe initiative to prevent violence against women, rather “noteworthy” under a “historic atmosphere where the chains of Hagia Sophia are broken and all the world is talking on Turkey.” It would be nice if a party fellow tells Kaya that it was President Tayyip Erdoğan who introduced the Istanbul Convention to the agenda. And Hagia Sophia is not the sole issue the world is talking on Turkey. Apparently, the AKP wants us all to talk only on Hagia Sophia, but the flow of life is not that way. Political engineering and perception management might work but to some extent. Still, Kaya has inevitably touched on one of the three fault lines that appear on the AKP ground.
We can outline these three fault lines seen on the ground of the AKP as follows:
1- The concerns over the coronavirus pandemic, which grow ahead of the opening of the school season,
2- The silent rebellion of the women that started with the debate on the Istanbul Convention,
3- Failure to achieve the expected improvement in the economic and financial outlook.
Let’s look at these one by one. Then on how this could affect the AKP’s vote potential.
Coronavirus measures crack
As a country that was shown as a successful example in the struggle against Covid-19, Turkey is now in a “worrying” position. The definition belongs to Health Minister Fahrettin Koca. The officials who declared that the number of new patients could fall below 100 people a day by mid-June, endeavor to keep the official figures below 1,000 now as of early August. In this regard, we remember that Erdoğan had rejected the request of the Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu to extend the ongoing weekend lockdown for at least another week. The distrust in the official figures is at a very high level. Prof. Dr. Ateş Kara, a member of the Health Ministry’s Science Advisory Board, announced that the number of patients in intensive care is no longer declared and the reason for that has not been them.
Turkish Medical Association (TTB) chair Dr. Sinan Adıyaman says the number of patients is more than officially declared, and this situation prevents the public from perceiving the seriousness of the issue, as the international standards are not complied with. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Tourism Minister Mehmet Ersoy returned empty-handed from Germany, where they visited in hopes for attracting more tourists because Turkey’s data were not transparent enough.
Approximately 350,000 people who rushed to Istanbul from all across Turkey for the opening ceremony of Hagia Sophia as a mosque and returned to their hometowns, the consequences of yet another rush of millions to resort towns during the Feast of the Sacrifice holiday already worries the health minister. Still, the main problem remains the possible opening of schools as of August 31. Will the Erdoğan government, which opened mosques and shopping malls before schools open them now? Private schools and urban transport lobbies favor the opening of schools “at all costs”. Education Minister Ziya Selçuk is determined on an August 31 opening, but there are still four scenarios on the table.
Istanbul Convention crack
Erdoğan wanted to reverse the losses of the AKP since the 2018 elections, especially after the 2019 local elections but fell into the trap of the vote blackmail of religious sects and orders. He faced a demand for the annulment of the Istanbul Convention by the İsmailağa Congregation, which is represented by “Cübbeli” Ahmet Ünlü (Ahmet Hodja in Robe) and claims that “who prays more for the Prophet will be granted more ‘houris’ in heaven. He also had the face a report by the Thought Platform (Düşünce Platformu), a distortion generator circle headed by a misogynist named Abdurrahman Dilipak as the spokesperson, which said, “It was a mistake to sign the Istanbul Convention, withdraw it.”
The final straw was Dilipak when he even dared to name the women of the AKP who embraced the essence of the Istanbul Convention that means to protect women from violence, as “prostitutes”, and to target the Women and Democracy Association (KADEM), an NGO whose board includes Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin from the AKP and Erdoğan’s daughter Sümeyye Erdoğan Bayraktar. KADEM embraced the Contract, declaring its reservations. The stance of urban, highly educated, businesswomen, who have supported the AKP, played a role in this. (The stance of Prof. Aşkın Asan, who represents Turkey Grevio, the executive body of the Convention, and who served as an AKP lawmaker and deputy ministers earlier, can be interpreted within this concept.) As the AKP is still thinking about whether to sue Dilipak who insulted its female members, Dilipak has already started to blackmail the party, saying “We won’t vote for you”. Erdoğan had received more votes from women rather than men until now.
The economy is not on the track
We have just mentioned, the cash input expected from tourism has not provided, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, not only tourists but also Turkish citizens who come from Europe for vacation every year, bringing in foreign currency, are also shy this year. The EU has put a travel ban and some EU countries tell them that, “If you go visit Turkey and get infected by Covid-19, you will lose your health insurance.” This is valid not only for Turkey but a list of countries that include the U.S., Russia, and Brazil.
The problems in the transportation industry are also serious. For the first time in years, major bus companies did not felt the need to add additional lines during the Eid holiday. Occupancy rates of planes are not disclosed. Those who can afford it prefer to travel on their vehicles. The low-interest-rate boom in the construction industry might not continue once the current stocks of the state-run property developer TOKİ run out. The output in automotive and white goods is indeed on the rise, which shows that the Turkish people have switched to a habit of purchasing by installment payments to protect themselves against high inflation.
The actual picture of unemployment is yet not clear due to the ongoing ban on layoffs as a measure against the pandemic. Recent surveys show that the public does not believe in the officially announced inflation and unemployment figures. The government, on the one hand, says that the melting foreign exchange reserve is not a major problem, and on the other hand, it pays a heavy costs to keep the value of the dollar under a few cents below 7 Turkish Liras, a self-claimed psychological threshold.
How all these affect voting potential?
The economic outline reveals new fault lines between the sections that Erdoğan and the AKP administration want to favor, and the small and medium-sized business owners and employees facing unemployment concerns, the sections that constitute the serious part of the vote base of the party.
Researches by pollster MetroPoll show that the votes of the AKP decreased from 33.9 percent at the end of February 2020 to 30.3 percent at the end of June (with the votes of the floating votes not being considered). Even though not significant, an upward move is being observed in votes for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Democracy and Progress Party (Deva), and the Future Party and a downward one in the AKP’s election ally Nationalists Movement Party (MHP) votes. The survey for the end of July, which would show the Hagia Sophia effect, has not been announced yet. And it would be useful to wait for the surveys for August and late September to understand how permanent the Hagia Sophia effect is.