In his long political career, Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s former president and co-founder of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been widely perceived — deservedly or not — as a politician averse to taking risks. Beyond any perceptions and opinions, however, the fact today is that Gul has assumed the role of a “guide” in a long-rumored plan to set up a new party that threatens to split the AKP. In the first tangible indication of a breakup, Ali Babacan, the AKP’s former economic czar, quit the party July 8.
In his resignation, Babacan — who served in several AKP governments under the now-defunct parliamentary system, most recently as deputy premier in charge of the economy — said that he had grown “mentally and emotionally estranged” from his party and that Turkey needed “a brand new vision for the future.” In two brief sentences heralding the new party, he said, “It has become inevitable to start a new effort for Turkey’s present and future. Many of my colleagues and I feel a great and historic responsibility toward this effort.”
Sources close to the work on the new party told Al-Monitor that it was Gul’s desire to have Babacan at the forefront of the move. Gul’s role is described as that of an “ağabey” — a Turkish word that means “elder brother,” but also denotes senior and experienced men whose views are taken into account and whose advice is heeded. In modern-day language, Gul’s role could be translated as “mentor” or “guide.”
Gul might have declined a founding leadership position on the grounds of his age — he turns 69 in less than four months — or because he already retired from the presidency in 2014. Nevertheless, by helping as an “elder brother,” he has still taken on an active role. So, given his reputation for shying away from risky political moves, is it fair to assume that the new movement stands a high chance of success?
That Gul is finally intervening in politics is, no doubt, a meaningful sign. But even more telling, perhaps, is the reaction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is also the chairman of the AKP and had met with Babacan ahead of the June 23 do-over of the mayoral election in Istanbul.
In remarks to journalists on a flight back from Bosnia July 10, Erdogan sounded rather uneasy as he recounted his meeting with Babacan. He said he told Babacan, “You can go your own way, that’s fine. But keep in mind, you don’t have the right to fracture the ummah. That’s what you are doing. You can’t get anywhere by fracturing the ummah.”
Erdogan’s use of the term “ummah,” which means the entirety of the Muslim world, to describe his party and its voter base is a perfect illustration of the extremes that mixing politics with religion has reached in Turkey. By going so far as to equate the AKP with the ummah and, by implication, elevate himself to the status of its leader, Erdogan has a political purpose. He wants to ensure that any looming political development detrimental to the AKP is perceived as anti-Islam in the party’s grassroots. Yet his use of the word “fracturing” reflects a very realistic apprehension over the consequences the AKP could face.
Before any fracturing, however, Babacan’s defection points to a
current unraveling in the government ranks. The timing of his
resignation — two weeks after the AKP’s historic rout at the Istanbul mayoral polls
— is hardly a coincidence. And before this unraveling, there was
certainly an in-house rift, dating back many years, when Gul and Babacan
became an axis of rising dissent against Erdogan.
Read more: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/07/turkey-former-akp-figures-plan-to-establish-a-new-party.html#ixzz5tx71Zuav