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Sunday, 31 March 2013

More than a quarter of Turkish voters are undecided

The latest regular Konsensus survey for Haberturk might not appear to throw up any voting intention surprises on first glance. AK Party holds its a clear lead (36.8%) with the CHP losing support (17.5%) and the MHP keeping firm (11.1%). The BDP trails on 3.6%, other parties were 3.5%.

On a uniform swing projection, that would give the AK Party 317 seats (down ten from the 2011 election), the CHP 137 (up two) and the MHP 61 (up eight). That would be a healthy AK majority.

The figures I quote above are based on voters who said they definitely would vote. A huge number did not support any party: 12.3% of those polled told Konsensus that they had not made their mind. A further 5.6% said they would not vote or would spoil their ballot, while 9.6% refused to answer the question.

That's 27.5%, more than a quarter of the sample, representing a huge portion of the Turkish electorate that is waiting to be convinced.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Turkey and Israel: the ambiguous peace

What a difference even an unpopular US president can make.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his first phone call in four years to his Turkish counterpart this afternoon. During the 30 minute conversation, he apologised for Israel's role in Mavi Marmara incident and agreed to discuss compensation for the families of the nine Turkish victims.

Both sides are to send their ambassadors back at once, reports suggest, a move which would restore full diplomatic relations. Mr Netanyahu also made a number of overtures on the entry of civilian goods into Palestinian territories, an issue about which Mr Erdoğan has been vocal. Barack Obama’s role in making the phone call happen appears to be pivotal.

As always with these things, the precise language is important. Israeli national security advisor Yaakov Amidror and Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who as undersecretary is essentially the man to know at Turkey's foreign ministry, had met in Rome recently to thrash out a form of words both sides could agree upon - but they failed. The task clearly fell above their pay grades.

So it is curious that the precise terms of this apology are somewhat ambiguous.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

The first step of the peace process: a PKK ceasefire

What happened this morning is quite extraordinary.

The imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, released a message calling for peace in southeast Turkey.

Tens of thousands of people turned out in Diyarbakır to hear it.

The message, to mark the Kurdish new year of Nowruz, was read out in Kurdish and Turkish.

The PKK leader called for his organisation's armed militants to retreat across the border back into northern Iraq. He did not ask them to disarm. 

Erdoğan on anti-Semitism: is this really an apology?

As Barack Obama tours Israel and the Palestinian territories, Turkish media has seized on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s remarks during his concurrent visit to Denmark.

“Erdoğan clarifies his comments on Zionism”, Milliyet reported yesterday, quoting comments the prime minister made to the Danish daily Politiken. What he actually did was clarify his views on Israel and Palestine – views that we already knew.

Politiken put it to Mr Erdoğan that his remarks last month were understood by some to question the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence and asked whether this was correct.

The prime minister responded, amply, with Turkey’s official line: he is critical of Israeli policy and the current government, not the state of Israel. He supports a two-state solution. He frequently condemns anti-Semitism.

The crucial sentence is his final one: “In this context, I stand behind my remarks in Vienna.”

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Erdoğan passes Menderes’s record, becomes third-longest serving prime minister

Cumulative days served as of 19 March 2013
Today Recep Tayyip Erdoğan marks his 3,658th day as Turkey’s prime minister, equalling Adnan Menderes’s record. Tomorrow, he assumes Menderes’s spot as Turkey’s third-longest serving prime minister. If he is still in post on Wednesday 14 August 2013, which is likely, Mr Erdoğan will rise to number two.

This is a week for milestones in the incumbent prime minister’s career. Last Thursday he marked ten years since assuming the premiership after winning the Siirt by-election and becoming an MP for the first time.

Adnan Menderes led Turkey’s first opposition party to be elected to office, the Democrat Party. He became prime minister in 1950, leading his party into three successive elections until he was toppled in a coup on 27 May 1960, his own 3,658th day. He was subsequently tried and hanged by the new regime.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Safe or stuffed? Who falls foul of AK's three term rule

If you look at article 132 of the by-laws that govern Turkey's ruling AK Party, you will find a clause that is sensible and democratic. It imposes a strict three term limit on MPs and mayors, presumably to ensure youth and vigour and prevent cults of personality among the party's ranks.

The article reads:
Article 132: Repeat candidacy of elected party candidates

Mayors and members of parliament who become a candidate from an AK Party list and are subsequently elected can be a candidate for a maximum three terms.
But this was written when the party was established, before its 2002 election victory that surprised everyone, including the founders, and well before the 2007 and 2011 elections, where the victories were even greater.

Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has come to adopt a looser interpretation of article 132. The three term limit remains, he says, but it's perfectly possible to take a break for one term and then return. It is also possible for third term MPs to go off and spend a term as mayor of Istanbul, for example, and then return to parliament afterwards.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Gezici poll shows slight drop in AKP support

A new general election opinion poll from Gezici Araştırma appeared in Vatan on Wednesday. The headline figures with changes from their last survey in January are AKP 43.0 (-2.7), CHP 28.0 (+1.1), MHP 18.2 (+0.3), BDP 8.1 (+2.6).

I haven't seen full tables of the research, but Vatan's commentary suggests the AK Party lost most of its support in western and central regions, where as the CHP and MHP. The fieldwork was done over the weekend of 23-24 February, which would place it at a time when negotiations with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was prominent in news coverage.

Gezici have been showing a shallow downward trend in the governing AK Party's support since November. The main beneficiary has been the CHP, shown as up by nearly two percentage points over the last three months.

A uniform swing projection of Gezici's polling result based on the results obtained in each electoral district at the last election would produce a Grand National Assembly that looks like this:

That's a healthy AK majority of 40 seats - so no real change to the shape of power.

Gezici also polled voting intention for next year's local elections (changes from January): AKP 38.6 (-1.2), CHP 28.6 (-0.9), MHP 19.8 (+1.4), BDP 7.6 (+1.1). It suggests trouble is afoot for AK Party councils, but national results based on local election questions will invariably be affected by where in the country people were polled.

Friday, 1 March 2013

What is a Turk? Which 1924 definition does Gül want?

The most heated debate over Turkey’s new constitution is over what to call its citizens. Today, if you hold a Republic of Turkey passport you are officially a Turk. No other identity carries official recognition. That might be okay if you consider yourself an ethnic Turk, but what if you are a Kurd? Or a Circassian? Or an Armenian?

One view, increasingly common these days, is that the “Turk” label should be an umbrella identity under which “ethnic sub-identities” like Kurds, Circassians and indeed ethnic Turks could fall. There are some – the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) support this line – that the umbrella identity should be called Türkiyeli (literally: “of Turkey”), a term hitherto mostly used by Turkish Cypriots to distinguish themselves from mainlanders. But there are others, like Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who reject the umbrella identity entirely: to them, everyone is a Turk, plain and simple.

Erdoğan on Zionism

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never been the darling of the Jewish community, but his latest comments at a UN meeting in Vienna on Wednesday will not help his reputation. He is reported as saying:

"Just like Zionism, just like anti-Semitism, just like fascism, it has become unavoidable that Islamophobia is considered a crime against humanity."             

The prime minister’s use of Zionism in a list of crimes against humanity has drawn condemnation from Israel and criticism from the United States. The translation above – which you will notice differs slightly from the one used by Reuters here – is my own based on the Turkish words quoted by the BBC.