September saw a further weakening in the governing AKP party’s once-unassailable hold on power in Turkey, with respected former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan announcing he will establish a new pro-business, pro-West party, citing “deep differences” with the AKP, or Justice and Development Party.
Babacan’s move, supported by former President Abdullah Gul, comes in the wake of the serious losses suffered by the AKP in this year’s mayoral elections in Ankara and Istanbul. There, a do-over contest on June 23 saw opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu transform what was a whisker-thin victory on March 31 into one of over 800,000, securing some 54% of the vote against his AKP opponent.
Observers say Babacan’s new party is further evidence that the wide coalition that has supported Recep Tayyip Erdogan since his first parliamentary win back in 2002 is splintering. Although new elections aren’t scheduled until 2024, further defections and the loss of more seats could move this forward. Former PM Ahmet Davutoglu is also reported to be establishing a new party; his rivalry with Babacan suggests that cooperation between the two may be limited.
Metropolitan Turks long opposed to the AKP are increasingly being joined by former supporters concerned about Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and close ties with President Putin of Russia—a traditional enemy of Turkey. But most of all, many defectors have been hit hard by the souring economy.
“The AKP’s economic model—based on high consumer demand and cheap loans—has reached the end of the road. Although there may be some upward blips here and there, the economy is now set on an irreversible downward course,” says Fadi Hakura, senior Turkey analyst at London’s Chatham House. Hakura thinks Babacan’s former close association with Erdogan, as a founder member of the AKP, will damage him. By contrast, the long-ineffectual CHP—emboldened by its recent wins—has been proving successful in widening its secular and left-of-center support base.