Nationalistic feelings seem to be getting stronger In Turkey. Political parties increasingly make use of nationalist rhetoric and an A&G public opinion poll published by Cüneyt Ülsever Miliyet Newspaper, 51.1% of the population think that nationalism in Turkey is on the rise, against 30.4% who oppose this view. The newspaper concludes: "The point reached in full membership talks with the EU, developments in Northern Iraq and the social experiences after the Hrank Dink murder have all added to the nationalistic reflexes."
However, the candidacy of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül and the prospect of having a moderate Islamist party ruling both the government and the presidency has alarmed secularist forces in Turkey, the military and the main opposition leader, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) alike. They accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of undermining the country’s secularist foundations. The military had warned that it would be ready to defend the Turkish secularist system as nearly a million protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the presidential candidate, following a failed vote in the parliament.
Moreover, public support for Turkish EU membership has been decreasing, especially following the EU’s decision in December 2006 to put the accession talks partially on hold. A public opinion poll by the International Strategic Research Organisation (ISRO) on 7 November 2006 showed that Turkish public support for accession fell from 75% in 2004 to 50% in November 2006. A large majority of Turkish citizens (81%) thinks the EU does not treat their country fairly and only 8% still believe that Turkey will be a member in the next ten years.
The favourable economic climate could help the current Erdogan government to gather support for the upcoming elections. In 2006 Turkey’s economy grew by more than 6%.
The Turkish military issued comments on the first round of presidential elections, stating: “The problem that emerged in the presidential election process is focused on arguments over secularism.” It was added: “The Turkish Armed Forces maintain their sound determination to carry out their duties stemming from laws to protect the unchangeable characteristics of the Republic of Turkey.”
The Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis expressed his concern about the Turkish military's comments and said: "It looks like a deliberate attempt by the armed forces to influence the election of a new president in Turkey. They should stay in their barracks and keep out of politics." He added: "I am shocked that the military in a member state of the Council of Europe should behave in this way in the midst of a democratic and constitutional process such as the election of the head of state."
Liberal MEP and vice-chairman of the parliamentary delegation for relations with Turkey, Andrew Duff, said: “I am very concerned at the tone and timing of these remarks [by the Turkish military] which suggest a threat to the democratic legitimacy of the country. I hope that they are nothing more than a personal view and do not represent a signal that the military would be prepared to set aside the democratic process in Turkey.”
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated: "The EU is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, and the supremacy of democratic civilian power over the military. If a country wants to become a member of the Union, it needs to respect these principles."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave his support for Abdullah Gül. He told German newspaper Bild: "I have worked very well and closely with Gül in the past years." He added: "Turkey has moved closer to the EU in recent years. We should keep on giving our support for this."
Commission President José Manuel Barroso congratulated Erdogan on the election results: "This comes at an important moment for the people of Turkey as the country moves forward with political and economic reforms. Prime Minister Erdogan has given his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the EU. I wish him every success with his new mandate."
Turkish business association TÜSIAD commented the parliament election result, saying: "Important tasks and responsibilities are awaiting the new parliament. In our opinion, in the upcoming period, including the process of presidential elections, it is in Turkey’s best interests to promote an atmosphere of national consensus on major policy issues. The Turkish business community expects the new parliament and government to focus on continuing the momentum of the accomplishments of the last term. Within this framework, the government should promptly concentrate on the structural reforms further boosting Turkey’s global economic competitiveness and the EU membership process."
Sinan Ülgen, chairman of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), told EURACTIV that with a re-election of AKP "progress towards the full membership objective will remain high on the agenda" and the "current approach towards the EU should remain unchanged". Speaking about Turkey's failure to enhance its image in Europe he said: "The incoming government is likely to put much more emphasis on this dimension of the relationship, provided that full membership remains on track."