Will Turkey Turn Back Toward the West Next Year?

Turkey is lost under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP). They are firmly in the camp of Iran despite their competition over the title of reigning anti-Israel champion. Israel has labeled the IHH -- the group that tried to break the Gaza blockade with the Marvi Marmara -- a terrorist group, which indirectly labels Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism because of the AKP and Erdogan’s close ties to the IHH. Luckily, this may only last for a year.

The AKP and Erdogan are still popular in Turkey, but the main opposition group, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has chosen a new leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who is being well-received. Assisted by Erdogan’s overreaching domestically and internationally, the CHP may ride a backlash that leads to defeat or clipped wings for AKP during the next general election scheduled for July 2011.

A new poll shows the CHP with a one percent lead over the AKP at a time when support for Erdogan is supposed to be high because of the confrontation with Israel. The opposition is already taking aim at Erdogan’s foreign policy. This means that they feel he is more vulnerable on this issue than the current wisdom suggests. (The current wisdom holds that his provocations are good political investments.)

“There is a crisis in trust with the West because of their [the AKP] politics and the AKP needs to repair it immediately. If they don’t, then we will see worse results in the next few months,” Kilicdaroglu said. He has clearly called for Turkey to reverse course, decrying “the shift in our axis.”

At the same time, a group of Turkish diplomats is going after Erdogan for having an “adventurous” foreign policy. They are accusing him of neo-Ottomanism. It is very encouraging that there has been such a quick reaction against Turkey’s latest moves against the West and against Israel. The Turkish public is still opposed to Western policy and the CHP has condemned Israel for the flotilla raid, but there is definite angst over the overall Islamist trend and aligning against the West.

The Turkish population is vehemently against terrorism. A poll in September found that only four percent support suicide bombings and only two percent expressed confidence in Osama bin Laden to “do the right thing regarding world affairs.”  Another poll from February found that Hezbollah is only looked favorably upon by three percent of the population and Hamas by five percent. Erdogan may well have overreached in his movement of Turkey’s foreign policy into the Islamist camp.

The AKP was originally careful with how it went about turning Turkey away from pro-Western secularism, because they understood that they won because their opponents were splintered. One of the keys to the AKP’s original 2002 electoral victory was the rule that parties failing to win 10 percent of the vote are not given a seat in parliament. If you look at the results, this excluded many anti-Islamist parties because their support was divided among voters, creating competition that ultimately doomed them all.