Things we already knew: Kılıçdaroğlu better than Baykal

There’s been a smattering of coverage in the Turkish press of a public opinion survey that paints the leader of Turkey’s main opposition party in better light than his predecessor. “The Kılıçdaroğlu vaccine has worked” trumpets today’s Cumhuriyet, a staunchly secular newspaper. 68 percent of the party’s voters think its new leader is more successful, while 13 percent prefer former leader Deniz Baykal, it reports. So far, so good for Mr Kılıçdaroğlu?

Possibly. Trouble is, that was the easy part. Many party members – and many others outside the party, like this blog – were so disillusioned about the CHP’s direction and agenda under the previous leadership that a change at the top was seen as the only way forward. So not being Mr Baykal had already guaranteed Mr Kılıçdaroğlu points.

New leaders of major political parties tend to experience a public opinion bounce. Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s honeymoon period was particularly short: events in the eastern Mediterranean involving a certain flotilla put paid to that. In the months that followed, the new leader’s challenge was to win over his party, a party whose leader had gone, but whose old guard remained. It appears quite clear, following a period of internal skulduggery that culminated in a stormy party congress late last year, that Mr Kılıçdaroğlu now has that steady grip on the CHP leadership.

Some of these poll results will be encouraging to him. 53 percent of respondents think CHP was a “revolutionary” (awkward word, I know) party, as against 33 percent who say it represented the status quo. That result would certainly have been the other way around during the Baykal era. There were also positive responses when asked whether the CHP leadership was “in touch with the people”: more than 9 percent name him as the politician they most admire, ahead of Devlet Bahçeli, who has led the third-placed Nationalist Action Party for donkey’s years, and well ahead of Mr Baykal’s best results.

However, Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was only third in the popularity contest. Prime Minister Erdoğan was first (22 percent) and President Abdullah Gül second (10 percent), which illustrates the scale of his next challenge: winning over the country. A majority of Metropoll’s respondents (56 percent) believe Mr Kılıçdaroğlu and his team can not lead the CHP to power, and an overwhelming 72 percent do not believe the party could solve the Kurdish issue.

The next challenge, then, is for Mr Kılıçdaroğlu to win over the country. He has recorded a modest improvement in his party’s standing, as the latest Metropoll survey shows, but the governing AK Party remains firmly in the lead. He has six months to prove his worth.

Metropoll interviewed 1504 people in 31 Turkish provinces between 25 and 29 December 2010. The full survey can be found here.

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