Support for Turkey's AKP dwindles

Erdogan’s homegrown rivals

Erdogan has ruled Turkey firmly for the last 18 years, but his party now faces a huge challenge: former party heavyweights who have jumped ship to establish their own new parties. By Ayse Karabat

Over the last 18 years, under the strong leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has transformed the face of Turkish politics, mostly for lack of a robust opposition. But the AKP is now facing massive challenges, emerging simultaneously from three separate groups.

One, established on 13 December, is a political party named Future Party that will be chaired by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The other is to be headed by former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who is acting alongside former President Abdullah Gul; an official launch of his party is expected within the next few weeks.

The third group comprises of those who are still among the AKP’s ranks, but do not have a leader and are hesitant to act together with the other two groups. That said, however, they do share the same principal complaint: the AKP is no longer the party they once devoted themselves to. One is Mustafa Yeneroglu, who has been open in his criticism of the party and its undemocratic practices. He was forced to resign from the AKP – at Erdogan's request – in October.

All these groups feel that the AKP has turned into a highly centralised body where nepotism and repression are the order of the day. When the AKP first came to power, however, its political agenda was one that promoted freedom.

Climate of fear

Giving his inaugural speech at the founding of Future Party, Davutoglu emphasised the need to ease the restrictions on society, focussing especially on the need for a free press. "Despite all the pressures and the climate of fear that is being fostered, we have come together to draw up a prosperous future for our country," he said.

 Former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference to announce the establishment of his Future Party in Ankara, Turkey, 13 December 2019 (photo: REUTERS/Alp Eren Kaya)/Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press after meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for discussions on Syria and migration on 7 November 2019 in Budapest (photo: Laszlo Balogh/Getty Images)
A prosperous future: former prime minister Davutoglu resigned from the AKP in September. His Future Party, established on 13 December, is opposed to Erdogan's presidential system and is seeking to restore Turkey's parliamentary democracy. A free press and an inclusive society also figure largely on the party's political agenda

In a rare interview with private broadcaster Haberturk on 26 November, Babacan also expressed his concerns about the climate of fear. He said that Turkey's youth in particular had become afraid to write tweets, anxious that expressing their thoughts could prevent them from finding jobs. "Turkey's problems are growing and we feel that it has entered a dark tunnel," he said. However, as the editor-in-chief of independent news outlet Medyascope Rusen Cakir pointed out, both are fighting shy of naming the person responsible for this "climate of fear" or "dark tunnel".

"Babacan and Davutoglu may eventually point the finger at Erdogan, but their current attitude is casting doubts on their own credibility. They and their fellow defectors were previously active in the AKP and therefore bear, if only partially, some of the responsibility for creating the political atmosphere that they now find so intolerable," said Cakir, echoing the opinions of other columnists and pundits, who argue that these former AKP members should be more critical about the part they played in creating the current climate.   

Davutoglu resigned from the AKP in September after it launched a disciplinary action against him. Similarly, Babacan was a member of the AKP until his resignation in July. Both of them are now openly critical of its rigorous party discipline and have promised that their new parties will give special importance to consultation mechanisms.

Both are opposing the presidential system, implemented in 2017, and defending restoring a parliamentary democracy. They promise to be inclusive and not to polarise society. But another point they share is not spelling out their approach to the Kurdish issue, one of Turkey’s biggest issues both domestically and in foreign policy.

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