The chances for new political parties in Turkey
Prominent figures of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) who had been sidelined are preparing to start some sort of political movements. While former President Abdullah Gül is also cited to be among them, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former Foreign and Economy Minister Ali Babacan have lately been politically much more active compared to Gül, who is said to be behind Babacan. The latter point might not be false as Babacan was introduced to politics by Gül himself. (Gül is on the record for saying he personally went to Babacan’s parents to convince them, being likened to asking the hand of a bride.)
While Davutoğlu has openly voiced his strong criticism against AK Party policies after the defeat of the ruling coalition in the Istanbul election rerun on June 23, Babacan recently resigned and is said to speed up activities to form a new party. Babacan is known to have been busy holding talks with several international and domestic economic circles.
While Davutoğlu seems to want to capitalize on foreign and domestic vulnerabilities, Babacan is preparing to capitalize on economic problems. In fact those in touch with him got the impression that he sort of portrays himself as former Economy Minister Kemal Derviş, without mentioning his name obviously.
Derviş was an economist who left his position as a senior executive at the World Bank and came to Turkey in 2001 to tackle the country’s serious financial crisis. He in fact succeeded in taking the country out of the crisis and the Turkish banking system as well as other financial institutions like the Central Bank that owed their strengths and reputations to his reforms.
Babacan, who is the AK Party’s first economy czar, owes his success to a strict adherence to Derviş’s recipes. In the early days he was not taken too seriously by economic circles, yet in time he did gain their appreciation. But he basically followed the steps of Derviş and the country’s economy benefited from the global financial situation.
His performance as foreign minister is, however, disappointing. In fact he is the person accused by many of failing to prevent FETÖ infiltration to the ministry and injected partisanship to the house of diplomacy. He violated the ministry’s decades-old tradition and, instead of choosing one among three names suggested by the ministry’s personnel department, he handpicked an unknown name as his private secretary. That person continued his shining career by becoming the adviser to his successor Davutoğlu. He was even stronger than the undersecretary of the ministry and following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, he still remains in prison (whether “his crimes” necessitates prison sentence can obviously be contested, as those who appointed him and worked with him are free). But to be fair, it was not Babacan but Davutoğlu who opened the doors of the ministry wide open to FETÖ-affiliated people.
Apart from his private secretary, Babacan waited for months before making any appointments to different departments of the Foreign Ministry. He just could not and did not want to trust the diplomats, whom he saw as members of another political family. He remained in the shadow of Gül, who, as president, wanted to keep the reins of the foreign policy.
In sum, there is enough input in his track record to prove that while he can be a good second man, or a good bureaucrat, he lacks leadership, political wit and charisma. As a conservative, urban economist, one can hardly associate an ideology with him
When it comes to Davutoğlu, his track record is in stark contrast to that of Babacan. He is an ideologue. He does not follow standard strategies but has got his own strategies based on his worldview. But this will precisely be to his disadvantage. All public opinion polls show that there is an overwhelming majority in Turkey who are unhappy with Turkey’s Syria policy and the presence of Syrian refugees. Davutoğlu’s main vulnerability is that he will be blamed for the burden brought on to the economic and social fabric by the war and refugees from Syria.
Overall, it is questionable for these names to present a serious challenge and alternative to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his party. Leaving aside Davutoğlu, who might decide to drop out from the race, Babacan’s relative (and minimal) success will depend on how many prominent names he will draw.
While alternative politically conservative movements might not strike a deadly blow to the AK Party, the relative damage they could inflict could upset the balances especially if victory in the next presidential elections were to remain on 50 plus one basis. The fact that Erdoğan talked to Babacan and tried to convince him to remain in the party shows that he is aware of that risk.