Erdoğan sees surge in support as Syria incursion spurs nationalism

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saw his popular support surge after he ordered a military incursion into Syria early last month to battle Kurdish militants, according to an opinion poll published on Tuesday.

Erdoğan’s approval rating rose to 48 percent last month from 44.3 percent in September in what appeared to be a surge of nationalist feeling, the poll by Ankara-based research company Metropoll showed. That was the highest level since shortly after presidential elections in June last year and before a currency crisis peaked in August 2018.

Erdoğan has sought to rally national support for the military operation, which began on Oct. 9 and sparked widespread international condemnation. His government says Kurdish forces in Syria are an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought an armed campaign for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for 35 years at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish. Ahval's editor-in-chief Yavuz Baydar, in October 23 article, stated that Erdogan ''emerged from apparent defeat in March local elections,'' following the Syrian incursion in which, helped Erdogan ''silencing party rebels, dispensing with any notion of snap elections, quelling the centrist-nationalist opposition and putting the Kurdish opposition into a state of paralysis.''

The poll showed that Erdoğan’s popularity jumped most among supporters of the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which backs his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in parliament. Erdoğan’s approval among MHP loyalists surged to 76.7 percent from 46.6 percent in September. Backing for Erdoğan among opposition Republican People’s Party CHP supporters also climbed to 13 percent from 7.9 percent, but it fell among AKP voters to 87.3 percent from 92.6 percent.

The number of Turks who disapproved of Erdoğan’s rule shrank by 9.3 percentage points to 33.7 percent, the lowest level since a failed military coup in July 2016, the figures showed. Eighteen percent did not respond to the survey, or gave no opinion.

Declining support for Erdoğan had contributed to losses for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at local elections earlier this year. The CHP won control of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s largest cities, as Turks saw living standards plummet in the aftermath of the currency crisis, which sparked a severe economic downturn, and Erdoğan tightened his grip on power.  

Turkey has struck agreements with Russia and the United States to halt attacks on the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in exchange for the latter’s withdrawal from the border region with Turkey, where Ankara wants to house returning Syrian refugees.

“There are still terrorists in the planned safe zone” who were patrolling with area with U.S. troops, Erdoğan said in a speech to his party deputies in parliament on Tuesday.