Voters want a change in Turkey

Though the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) may receive the largest number of votes by some margin in the June 7 parliamentary election, AKP leaders and field candidates are certainly running scared as the threat of losing the parliamentary majority, and thereby the government, looks more certain.
Last week, I traveled the same route I covered during the last parliamentary election in 2011, which covered 10 provinces along the Black Sea coastline, the eastern region and the heartland of Central Anatolia. Along the way I noticed quite contrasting developments that will not work for the aantage of the ruling party.
For one, economic hardships, especially rising unemployment, have taken a toll on the AKPand’s popularity in these provinces where the AKP by and large polls highest compared to the rest of the country. A lack of investment, unfulfilled campaign promises, the decline in turnovers for small and medium-sized enterprises, and staggering personal debt in consumer loans, mortgages and car loans have left many disenfranchised with the ruling party. It appears that voters are determined to send a message to the government and punish the ruling party by voting for the opposition.
In contrast to the 2011 election, when AKP candidates had campaigned enthusiastically and aggressively in the field, this time around they have avoided contact with voters on the street and usually restrict the campaigning to meetings enclosed in halls or restaurants attended by specially invited people. With the exception of public rallies held by Prime Minister and Party Chairman Ahmet Davutoilu and the de facto leader of the AKP, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ruling party candidates rarely hold public appearances.
The main reason for this self-imposed restriction on public events by AKP nominees appears to derive from a fear of exposing themselves to a public backlash that could work against them on the campaign trail. The massive corruption scandals that incriminated senior politicians in the AKP and Erdoganand’s extravagant lifestyle, including his lavish palace financed by taxpayersand’ money, has created resentment among many people. Voters are now lashing out at AKP candidates when given the chance.
On the other hand, opposition candidates are quite upbeat and campaign aggressively in provinces where the AKP is strong. They are on the offensive while the AKP is trying to hold on to what it gained in the last election cycle in 2011. Walking in the streets, one clearly notices that the AKP has lost the moral high ground in this election, perhaps for the first time since its winning streak began in 2002. You see opposition candidates canvassing in neighborhoods, visiting shopkeepers, shaking hands and kissing babies in busy downtown areas while the ruling party candidates are absent in the field.
A fatigue factor has set in among voters when it comes to the AKP that offers nothing new in the post-election era. The feeling that it is basically just and”more of the same from the AKPand” have led many to defect from the ruling party in search of alternatives that offer better economic benefits, more jobs, equal opportunities in education and that crack down on corruption, favoritism and influence peddling. The increasingly oppressive and authoritarian policies of the government have also turned many voters away from the AKP toward those that offer more rights, freedoms and respect for the rule of law.
Erdoganand’s aggressive campaigning on behalf of the ruling party despite the fact that he ought to be bipartisan and neutral according to the Constitution has left a bitter taste among many voters. Perhaps Erdogan felt low-caliber politician Davutoilu failed to fill his shoes and left the political field wide open to the opposition when he decided to hit the road for illegal campaigning. Erdogan fears defeat would make him a lame duck president and would make it very difficult for him to finish his term. But this political campaigning tactic by the AKP seems to have backfired on the ruling party as Erdoganand’s hateful narrative, bellicose statements and agitation of controversial issues have made him even more of a liability for the AKP.
What is more, the debate Erdogan has imposed as the centerpiece of the upcoming election — transition to a presidential system — in order to legalize his de facto executive presidency simply does not resonate well among voters. Erdogan not only failed to gain track on re-energizing that debate but has also irked many who allowed him to ascend to the presidential office. Voters now question why Erdogan is not behaving as a statesman like his predecessors and why he is pushing so hard to give up the century-old parliamentary democracy when he already holds the highest office in the land.
Another observation I noticed is that the climate of fear imposed by the ruling AKP on the electorate and the blatant abuse of all state resources to buy votes ahead of elections has been backfiring on the AKP as well. It is true that many people are reluctant to reveal which party they will vote for on election day, concerned as they are that big brother is watching and profiling them on behalf of the ruling party. But once you have established trust, they present their true intention and how keen they are to send a stern warning to the AKP this time around.
You certainly feel the tremors when you walk around and talk to people. That observation is also shared by many opposition candidates who are much more familiar with the field. They say more and more people who used to cast their votes for the AKP are confiding in them in private to let their support known as they are afraid of openly declaring their preferences due to pressure and repression by the government. Perhaps that may be another reason why the polling data this time around may not be so reliable. As a result, we just do not know the strength and magnitude of the coming quake that festers on growing disillusionment and disenfranchisement with the government.
Another major mistake by the AKP is the list of nominees who have no strong connections with either the partyand’s grassroots or the local communities they are supposed to represent in Parliament. As Erdogan and his associates in the government feel more insecure in their positions than ever, they opted for low-key loyalists in drafting the list of nominees many of them were parachuted from the party leadership. This created a rift within local branches of the AKP and helped set up parallel factions that work against each other, rather than competing against other political parties.
The AKP has lost its lead as a progressive party and ceased to become an agent of change in Turkey. It now represents a corrupt political movement that runs on a patronage system of crooked politicians and businesspeople. It turns more to exclusionary political Islamist ideology to mobilize hard-core supporters. It neither shows the capacity to reach out to new voters nor a successful strategy to keep the ones who voted for the party in the past. Following the same pattern we see in the local and presidential elections last year, the AKP will continue losing support during these elections as well.
The voters clearly want a change and are not happy with the policies of the current government. The next two weeks will be crucial in determining how much punishment voters will deal to the AKP.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman