Turkey's main opposition has taken the lead from the ruling AK Party for the first time in eight years, an opinion poll showed on Saturday, as its new leader draws fresh support before an election due in 2011.
EU candidate Turkey has been rocked by in-fighting between the AK Party and the secular establishment, chronic unemployment and a budget deficit last year of 5.5% of GDP.
According to a survey by pollster Sonar, the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) would take 32.48% of the vote if an election were held now, ahead of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party on 31.09%, and the nationalist MHP party on 18.59%.
Some 3,000 people contributed to the poll, conducted days after the CHP elected Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its chairman to replace veteran Deniz Baykal, who resigned after 18 years following the release of a video purporting to show him and a woman in a bedroom.
The CHP won just 21 percent in the 2007 election, against 47% for the AK Party.
By the time of local elections in March 2009, support for the AK Party had slipped to 38%, but that for the CHP had risen only slightly to 23%, and the party was still widely seen as unelectable because of Baykal's intransigence.
The AK Party's chances of winning a third consecutive term are unclear, and Turkey's deep economic recession last year further reduced its support.
A poll published by Akam institute put the AK Party on 25.3%, the CHP on 24.8%, the MHP on 15.2% and the undecided voters at 19.2 percent, Cumhuriyet newspaper reported on Saturday.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country that has applied to join the European Union, has achieved unparalleled stability since the AK Party swept to power in 2002.
Erdogan has enjoyed strong support among the pious and once marginalized masses from the Anatolian heartland who rose to political and economic prominence in the past two decades, but his market-friendly reforms have also appealed to investors.
The CHP, by contrast, was established by Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, and has traditionally drawn its votes from Turkey's urban elites and secularist middle class.
Kilicdaroglu has pledged to broaden the party's appeal and gain ground among Turkey's poorest voters.
The Sonar poll cited Turkey's chronic unemployment and economic concerns as the most important issues for the electorate.