Ex-deputy PM Babacan a formidable rival to Turkey’s Erdoğan


Turkey’s former deputy prime minister in charge of the economy Ali Babacan could pose a serious threat to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), wrote Arab Weekly columnist Stephen Starr on Saturday.

A founding member of the AKP, Babacan resigned from the ruling AKP earlier this month, citing differences over key policies, the latest sign of rift within the Islamist party. The former chief negotiator for EU accession also said he would seek to begin a separate political movement with new allies who have a new vision for Turkey.

Babacan’s departure comes amid reports of growing discontent with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan within the AKP, which has ruled Turkey for 17 years.

Lauded for successfully steering Turkey’s economy during the first decade of AKP rule, Babacan stands out as a leading rival against Erdoğan, alongside former President Abdullah Gül and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, the article said.

Babacan differs from other former Erdoğan allies Gül and Davutoğlu, Starr wrote, in that he used his resignation as a platform from which to speak directly to Turks in a way few AKP heavyweights have done and his statement was unapologetic.

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The Turkish president was quick to slam Babacan over his decision, accusing him of breaking up the ummah (Muslim community).

Babacan’s announcement came just weeks after the AKP’s loss of the Istanbul mayoral seat and two days after the country’s central bank governor, the article said, underlining that  Babacan’s steering of the country into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world played a major factor in the widespread support for the AKP among Turks during the 2000s.

It is precisely this angle – that of an economic savior – that may allow for Babacan to reach Turks via a new political party, Starr said.

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Turkey’s economy emerged from a recession in the first quarter of this year with a 1.3 percent growth in the three months to March. The country’s economy had plunged into a recession after a currency crisis sent the lira to record lows in August. The government has since sought to stimulate an economic revival with tax cuts and cheap loans from state-run banks.

“Erdogan aside,’’ the article said,  “the main players behind the original AKP movement are gone. Add in a recession, the central bank governor’s dismissal and the embarrassing loss of the mayoralty of Istanbul and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the difficulties facing the AKP are mounting.’’

As the challenges to Erdoğan, the latest of which is Turkey’s ejection from the F-35 program, are beginning to pile up, he is becoming increasingly aware of the threat posed to him by the likes of Babacan and Davutoğlu, the article concluded.