Turkish trends

by Doğu Ergil, Today's Zaman on . Posted in Columns

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The MetroPOLL Strategic and Social Research Center conducted a nationwide survey during the last week of March and the first week of April. There were interesting findings worth considering.

The topics polled included the clash between the Gülen community and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and the debate on the unexpected to the structure of education that is believed by some to be a move by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to reopen imam-hatip Schools (religious vocational high schools) that had been closed due to the pressure of the military. Another recent matter of public debate is the issue that prosecutors had wanted to question the head and top officials of MİT on the grounds of inappropriate actions taken during covert operations. This initiative was aborted and led to the creation of a new law that tied the prosecution of MİT agents to the executive permission of the prime minister.

All of these events had a mixed impact on public opinion.

When asked whether prosecutors should be able to interrogate the MİT undersecretary when necessary, 56 percent of respondents found this reasonable and 31 percent were opposed.

Only 27 percent of respondents felt that the head of MİT should be immune from direct questioning by prosecutors and judges; 61 percent thought otherwise.

These findings indicate that the overwhelming majority of the people do not want any government official to be above the law or have special protection granted by the executive order when they commit a wrong.

When asked whether the crisis between MİT and the judiciary has negatively affected the government or not, 15 percent of respondents felt that the crisis has strengthened the government and 17 percent believed it has weakened the government. However, 57 percent indicated the crisis did not change anything about the standing of the government.

With regards to the alleged clash of power and interests between the Gülen community and the AKP, only 32 percent of respondents expressed a belief that there was such friction. Fifty-six percent said there was no such thing.

The number of respondents who believe the Gülen community wants to wield power and share it with the AKP was 38 percent. Those who think the Gülen community has no such aim or drive was 44.5 percent.

Another issue that has led to wide-scale speculation and remarks regarding the hidden agenda of the government is its efforts to reopen religious vocational high schools. The sudden implementation of a new educational system (frequently referred to as 4+4+4) with little information as to its content or the means for its implementation upset the public.

Forty-four percent of respondents nationwide find the government’s 4+4+4 system favorable. However, 45 percent find the initiative, which has raised more questions than provided answers, unfavorable. Sixty-nine percent of AKP supporters found the proposal favorable, whereas 14 percent do not approve. The overwhelming majority of Republican People’s Party (CHP) supporters found the proposal unfavorable (82 percent), while 14 percent found it favorable. The spokespersons of other opposition parties have criticized the initiative as arbitrary and immature. They have accused the government of playing around with the educational system without due consideration. Yet the AKP majority was sufficient to vote it through Parliament.

When asked about the response by the AKP to criticisms leveled against it by the opposition, 47 percent of respondents felt it has been disproportionally harsh. Forty-five percent thought otherwise. Forty-seven percent of respondents believe the AKP government is restricting democratic opposition and freedom of the press. It is interesting to see that 28 percent of AKP supporters share this opinion. Those who do not believe the government violates any freedoms represent 44 percent of the nation.Given these facts, it was appropriate to determine the popularity rating of the main political parties to see whether there have been any fluctuations since the last opinion poll, which was conducted in December 2011. At the beginning of April 2012, the AKP received 48.1 percent support. The others were supported as follows: CHP by 22.6 percent, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) by 11.7 percent and pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) by 5.1 percent. Five percent were undecided. Compared with the poll conducted in December of last year, the AKP seems to have lost 3.7 percent of its support. The others have experienced slight increases, with the CHP receiving the highest boost, 1.6 percent.

These figure indicate that the ruling party has suffered a small but indicative loss of popularity, most probably because of the combined effects of the bombing of 35 Kurdish citizens at Uludere and its inability to come up with a plausible explanation, the damaging debate regarding friction between the AKP and the Gülen community as well as between the judiciary and intelligence service and, finally, the 4+4+4 educational system, which begs for serious questions to be answered.