Erdogan's former ally Ali Babacan to form rival party

Turkey's former deputy prime minister ends months of speculation as he prepares to take on president's AKP

Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan gestures during a press conference on the steps of the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Istanbul on February 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ OZAN KOSE (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)
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Turkey's former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan will form a new political party to challenge President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Babacan is a founding member of Mr Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) but he resigned in July amid months of speculation that he was planning to form his own centre-right party. He said that "deep differences" had emerged over "the principles, values and opinions in which I believe".

Speaking to Karar newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday, Mr Babacan said he was still working to find like-minded people to forge a team to lead the new party.

"This will take some time," he told the newspaper. "We want the party to be formed before 2020. The quality is very important here."

Mr Babacan served as economy and foreign minister before becoming deputy prime minister between 2009 and 2015. He is widely credited with guiding the country into its boom years, tripling the size of Turkey's economy following the financial crisis of 2001.

It is thought that he now wants to distance himself from political Islam, which is at the core of AKP politics, and recreate the centrist parties that dominated Turkey in the past.

"Mr Babacan will target the centrist wing of [AKP] supporters, the wing that is more involved in business – small- to medium-size enterprise owners and entrepreneurs who are not happy with the direction of Turkey's economy," said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM.

"That group is one of the backbones of the [AKP]."

The party is said to have the backing of former president Abdullah Gul, another former ally of Mr Erdogan's, who was rumoured to be considering running against him in the 2018 presidential election.

Former justice, industry and state ministers who are known to be aligned with Mr Gul are also on side, but the test for Mr Babacan's party will be whether he can recruit people from beyond his usual sphere.

"The challenge will be to recruit people who have had no ties to the [AKP] in the past to form a more representative group to be the new centre-right," said Mr Ulgen.

As well as focusing more on the Turkey's troubled economy and sky-high inflation, Mr Ulgen said the new party will also seek to have a more harmonious relationship with the outside world, after Mr Erdogan's divisive rhetoric drove a wedge  between the country many of its former allies.

Turkey's next general election is scheduled to take place in 2023 and former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu is also said to be working towards forming a new party after he published a long manifesto on Facebook that criticised Mr Erdogan's policies.

Following Mr Babacan's resignation from the AKP in July, Mr Erdogan denounced the move, saying the party had been based on the principle of staying loyal to the Islamist cause.

"In our fellowship for our cause, there is one thing. You cannot leave the cause. It means serving until the end," Hurriyet newspaper quoted Mr Erdogan as saying.

In June this year, the AKP suffered a stinging electoral defeat in a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral election. It was seen by many as a sign that support for the long-time leader was beginning to ebb.