Once again, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan dug into his rhetorical quiver, pulled out the word “traitor,” and fired it, not at adversaries this time but at former companions with whom he had parted ways. In a recent campaign rally in Tokat, he lashed out against fellow founders and members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) whom he had cast aside, one after the other, in the course of his quest for autocratic power.
“Some of our friends were very content when we first set out on this road together and were given certain positions. But, sadly, when the time came for us to ask them to take a rest and let others take their place, they suddenly decided to get off our train and board another. That is not commitment to the unity of fate. That is not commitment to the unity of the cause. Those who betray us today will betray others tomorrow.”
He proceeded to call on voters to support him in order to foil the conspiracies of those “traitors” and others who were plotting to undermine the Turkish economy.
Of course, he left the names unmentioned, not for fear of retaliation and or even a lawsuit. But, despite his long and ever-growing list of enemies, everyone knew who he was talking about: fellow AKP founder and former president Abdullah Gül, former AKP leader and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former AKP deputy-chief Selcuk Ozdag.
Ironically, a couple of decades ago Gül and Erdogan had broken away from the Refah (Welfare) Party in order to form their own party because of their opposition to the “despotic” control of its leader, Necmettin Erbakan, the father of Islamism in Turkey. History appears to be repeating itself.
The eminent Haberturk columnist Fatih Altayli reports that Davutoglu is in the process of founding a new party and that it has already established bases in 40 provinces.
The party will feature prominent names and, in a few weeks, Davutoglu will officially submit its application for registration to the Interior Ministry, after which the new party will get down to work.
Altayli mentioned that former president Abdullah Gul and former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan are also involved in a process of forming a new party, but that they are waiting for the outcome of the upcoming municipal elections before they announce it. If the AKP performs poorly, they will launch the party amid expectations that it will win over quite a few AKP parliamentary deputies.
However, according to Altayli, Davutoglu might try to pre-empt them and launch his new party in the hopes that Gul and Babacan will join him instead of forming one of their own.
Although the party is still in the process of formation — its name has not even been revealed yet — it would pose formidable competition to the AKP with which it would vie in the same conservative base.
The new party would also boast leaders that command respect both at home and abroad and who are very familiar with how Erdogan operates, after having worked with him for years.
Erdogan may pretend otherwise, but he has every cause to be worried, with this coming on top of his party’s declining performance in public opinion polls. So, it is little wonder that he has increased his campaign tours, turned up the volume of his polarising rhetoric and doubled down on economic pledges he knows he could never keep, even if he wanted to.
At the same time, to compensate for his disappointment in former friends and allies who have betrayed his thirst for power, he turned to the ultra-nationalists for solace and votes.
But that corner, too, is proving worrisome. Recent surveys covering the major towns and cities in the country show that the Cumhur Ittifaki (The People’s Alliance) between the AKP and the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is losing popularity.
In part this is due to the nature of municipal elections which are different from parliamentary and presidential elections.
Firstly, they are traditionally a time for voters to express their discontent, which is mounting against the backdrop of the country’s economic straits, and secondly, as political analyst and journalist Fehmi Koru observed, new electoral alliances are causing quite a bit of confusion among voters who are wondering whether to vote for an “alliance” candidate who is not from their own party.
Koru predicts that, in the end, party affiliation/loyalty will prevail. AKP campaign strategists might try to come up with appeals to “fellow allies”, but in the end they will not succeed in attracting many votes from outside the party base.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: No room for naysayers