Former Turkish deputy prime minister and economic czar Ali Babacan has confirmed to a Turkish daily that he will form a new political party by the end of the year to challenge the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of his former political boss, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan finds himself in something of a hole and potential rivals have been circling for months. While Turkey’s economy was booming many Turks looked the other way as the strongman grabbed more and more power and ran an increasingly authoritarian administration. But Erdogan stands accused of badly botching the economic stewardship of the debt-fuelled country, leading to last year’s currency crisis and the bitter recession that Turkey has this year struggled to overcome. There are plenty of Turks who would rather try something new than stick with Turkey’s leader of nearly 17 years.
Babacan, 52, outlined his intentions in an interview published on September 10 by Karar newspaper.
“Values like human rights, freedoms, populist democracy and the rule of law are ones that we always defend and believe in. These principles are not a periodic political preference for us,” he told the publication, adding that the AKP was committed to these values in the past.
“After all these achievements, the condition in which Turkey is currently in truly saddens us. When we look at why it is in this condition, the main reason is that it has strayed from the practice of these values and principles,” he added.
A founding member of the AKP, Babacan resigned from the party in July, citing “deep differences”. Babacan served as economy and foreign minister during its first years in power before becoming deputy prime minister with responsibility for the economy, a role he held from 2009 to 2015. Between 2005 and 2009 he was Turkey’s chief negotiator for accession to the European Union.
Babacan said in the interview with Karar—known in Turkey as a newspaper that became home to former Erdogan-supporting journalists kicked out of pro-government media outlets—that he was working to find like-minded individuals to create a team that could lead the new party. He added that former president Abdullah Gul was supportive but not formally included in the project.
“This will take some time,” Babacan said. “We want the party to be formed before 2020. The quality is very important here.”
Babacan also talked about how Turkey’s economy needed to emerge from a spiral and, given the plentiful liquidity in world markets, to “urgently” lower its risk premium. The erosion of the judiciary and some foreign policies under the present administration were partly to blame for the economic problems, he said.
“The government needs to be at the same distance to every citizen. The government needs to provide justice and equal opportunity. Justice is the reason why governments exist,” Babacan was quoted as saying.
Erdogan, 65, lately warned AKP members that those who “get off this train will not be allowed back on”, Reuters reported.
In Sivas, central Anatolia, at the weekend, the president told party faithful. “If we keep our brotherhood strong, then seeds of unrest can’t grow. Those who wanted to harm the AKP for their own political ambitions and aspirations have always been disappointed.”
Dissent in the ranks, though usually not public, has not been that hard to come by since the party suffered a humiliation in Ankara, Istanbul and other cities during the spring local elections. In what was widely seen as an embarrassing own goal, Erdogan—who with vigorous campaigning essentially made the vote a referendum on his leadership of the country—backed claims of polling station irregularities that forced a rerun of the Istanbul election—only to see the AKP candidate, ex-PM Binali Yildirim, who lost the initial poll narrowly, get an absolute hammering as Istanbullers turned the contest into a test of Turkish democracy.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who fell out with Erdogan three years ago, hit out at the AKP’s economic management and Erdogan’s rhetoric after the local elections. The party last week started the process of removing him from the AKP.
Turkey’s next elections are not scheduled until 2023 but there is some speculation Erdogan might try to use the credit taps to secure an economic bounce that he could exploit in snap elections to consolidate his presidency before opponents such as Babacan get up a head of steam.