Erdogan’s popularity drops to lowest level

Approval for Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dropped. (AFP)
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Updated 08 February 2020

Erdogan’s popularity drops to lowest level

  • Erdogan’s authoritarianism cited as reasons for his plunging ratings

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity rating has fallen to its lowest level since October 2018, according to a new survey.

Pollster company Metropoll’s findings also showed that public approval for the Turkish leader had dropped by almost two points since December 2019, from 43.7 percent to 41.9 percent in January this year.

Experts believe the main underlying reasons for the wane in support for Erdogan were due to his authoritarianism and power grabbing which were damaging the country’s democratic institutions.

Berk Esen, an academic in international relations at Bilkent University in Ankara, also blamed a reduction in voter confidence on the declining state of the economy and other crises both at home and abroad.

Over the past two years the Turkish lira has weakened by 36 percent and investment in the country has plunged over concerns of state intervention in the economy and heightened geopolitical risks.

“Although the ruling party has in the past chosen politicizing crises to mobilize supporters against the opposition, it no longer seems to have the ability to effectively address them,” Esen told Arab News.

“Many voters feel that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) did not handle the recent earthquake in the eastern province of Elazig or the economic crisis well and worry that Turkish military involvement in Syria is getting out of hand with no tangible achievements.”

The latest deadly attack on Turkish troops in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province has also stirred widespread public debate about the necessity of Turkish presence in rebel-held battlegrounds of Syria.

Coupled with a growing sentiment of cronyism and corruption, these issues had drained the AKP’s support, said Esen. A recent corruption scandal involving Turkey’s Red Crescent had also further tarnished the government’s reputation.

The survey data revealed that Erdogan’s approval rating peaked at 48 percent in October, when he ordered the launch of an offensive into northeast Syria against Syrian Kurdish militia in the region. The nine-day-long operation ended with two separate agreements with Washington and the Kremlin.

Some 82.3 percent of pro-Kurdish party HDP voters, 87.4 percent of main opposition party CHP backers, and 83.3 percent of opposition Good Party voters were unhappy with Erdogan’s leadership, study figures revealed. However, during political crises, such as the 2016 failed coup attempt, Erdogan’s approval ratings were generally found to have surged.

A separate survey carried out by the Turkish CHP (Republican People’s Party), showed that 40 percent of Erdogan’s voters felt the country’s presidential system needed amending, while 54 percent of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters, the AKP’s staunch ally, also demanded system change.

Themis Research’s latest survey results, released in early February, revealed that Ekrem Imamoglu, the newly elected opposition mayor of Istanbul and a challenger to Erdogan with his inclusive political rhetoric and charisma, topped the polls with a 49 percent approval rating among voters. He was followed by Ankara’s opposition mayor Mansur Yavas (47 percent) and then Erdogan (42 percent) in third place.

Turkey’s opposition mayors, who won the country’s largest cities in the latest elections, have an ever-increasing rate of popularity mainly due to the priority they attach to transparency and fighting corruption, and their condemnations of government wrongdoings in major infrastructure projects.

Esen said: “The effective management of CHP mayors in metropolitan municipalities gives hope to voters that there may be a political alternative to the ruling party.”

He added that Erdogan remained more popular than his party but had lost some support in the past year along with his popularity bounce after the recent Turkish operation in Syria.

“The opposition against him has hardened over the past year since the 2018 presidential election. Faced with the government onslaught, the opposition parties, that in the past failed to agree on anything besides their opposition to Erdogan, have begun to cooperate openly.

“This may have a huge impact on electoral dynamics in the next election cycle,” Esen said.

The next national election is not due until 2023, unless there is a snap election.


Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

Updated 57 min 6 sec ago

Russian jets deployment in Libya sparks fears of Ankara-Moscow clash

  • US AFRICOM: US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors
  • Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar

JEDDAH: Russia’s deployment of fighter aircraft to Libya to support mercenaries backing eastern strongman Gen. Khalifa Haftar on Thursday ratcheted up the threat of a confrontation between Ankara and Moscow, experts warned.

In a statement, the US military’s Africa Command said: “US Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors operating on the ground there.”

The warplanes had been painted “to camouflage their Russian origin,” the statement added.

Despite Moscow’s dismissal of claims about its role in the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya, University of Oxford researcher Samuel Ramani said that new revelations about Russia deploying MiG-29 fighter jets to Libya could create tensions with Turkey.

“Russian jets are being deployed in order to stem the tide of Turkey’s military offensive, which has combined the use of ground force proxies and air force personnel in a hybrid warfare-style fashion. There is also the heightened risk of an accidental aerial conflict between Russia and Turkey,” he told Arab News.

The UN said on Wednesday it was following the developments “with great concern” and highlighted the possible “devastating consequences” of any breaches of an arms embargo imposed on Libya.

Turkey supports Syrian rebels and Libya’s Government of National Accord, while Russia backs Syria’s President Bashar Assad and the Libyan forces of Haftar.

In recent months, there have been steps for rapprochement between Assad and Haftar whose common enemy is still Turkey. Haftar decided to reopen the Libyan Embassy in the Syrian capital Damascus which had been closed for eight years, while flights resumed recently between Damascus and the Libyan city of Benghazi under Haftar’s domain.

However, Ramani pointed out that the long-term impact on Russia-Turkey relations was more unclear.

“Russia is reportedly scaling back its Wagner Group mercenary presence in Libya and replacing those forces with fighter jets, and it is unclear whether this will do more than stall Turkey’s advance, while Moscow pushes for a diplomatic settlement,” he said.

He noted the timing of the reports, which had come on the same day of a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Libya’s House of Representatives’ (HOR) head Aguila Saleh.

Ramani added that Turkey was unlikely to change its conduct in Libya much, in response to Russia’s new developments, but would be more vigilant if Russia’s air war expanded, and the Russian S-400 defense system deal would likely remain in place.

“The only way the S-400 deal could collapse is if the US were to intervene in a material fashion that benefits Turkey and hurts Russia, which is a near-impossibility at present, due to (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Turkey was set to activate the S-400 missile defense system in April and risked harsh sanctions from Washington for the move. However, the target date was postponed officially due to the COVID-19 outbreak that changed national priorities.

But Turkish rulers still insist on using the Russian system, although it is unclear how the diverging moves in Libya recently would impact on their resolve.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 on May 25, Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said although Turkey had delayed the activation of the system due to the pandemic, the government was still planning to operate it.

Kalin also hinted that if the US were willing to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, Erdogan would be ready to listen to the offer.

Seth Frantzman, Middle East security analyst and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said the Russian move meant to balance Ankara’s role in Libya and to make up for the losses in the Russian-made Pantsir air defense system and show Russia’s strength.

“It’s a bargaining chip related to Syria. Russia wants to show a strong hand in Libya to drive concessions in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, likely through a new regime offensive to illustrate that Russia is not abandoning its partners in Libya and that it is willing to symbolically commit air force assets very publicly,” he told Arab News.

Frantzman pointed out that while both Turkey and Russia worked together, they were also jockeying for popularity and influence in the region.

The UN said on Wednesday it was “following with great concern” claims that Russia sent jets to Libya.

The UN secretary-general’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that, if proven, it would “constitute a flagrant violation of the arms embargo” imposed on Libya in 2011.

Without mentioning Russia, Dujarric said: “Reports of violations have increased significantly in the past few weeks, with reported near-daily transfers by air, land and sea.

“This increase in the violations of the arms embargo will only lead to the intensification of the fighting, which will result in devastating consequences for the Libyan people.”