Erdoğan’s Grip on Power Shows Cracks As Splinter Parties Emerge

A second splinter party from the Turkish president’s AKP is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, giving disenchanted conservative voters an alternative

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a ceremony in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
The creation of new splinter parties from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will likely embolden the opposition and increase public criticism of the Turkish leader, analysts told The Media Line.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced on Friday he was establishing the Future Party, while the former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan, who left the AKP in the summer, is expected to announce the formation of his own party within weeks.
Davutoğlu, who resigned from the AKP in September, was prime minister of Turkey from 2014 to 2016 and was believed to have a falling out with Erdoğan over his increasing grip on power.
Elmira Bayrasli, an expert on Turkey and a professor at Bard College, said that the increased domestic pressure on Erdoğan will likely mean he will lash out in international relations.
“You’ve seen Erdoğan use his domestic troubles in foreign policy,“ she told The Media Line, adding that she believed Turkey’s October incursion into Syria was Erdoğan’s response to his country’s economic struggles.
“If anything I think that he will be more inclined to upset [allies] and appear as a very strong Turkish nationalist that is there to protect Turkish national interests.“
She added that the defections will show that high-profile politicians who were once close to Erdoğan are still willing to fight for the country’s democracy.
"It shows that people close to Erdoğan are not afraid to go against him and that’s a very positive signal [for] the Turkish people.“
Suat Kınıklıoğlu, a former member of parliament for the AK Party and a senior fellow at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies at the Berlin-based foundation Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, stated there will be more room for dialogue in Turkish politics.
“The multiplication of credible voices will inevitably allow for more political discourse,“ Kınıklıoğlu wrote in an email to The Media Line.
“That said, no one knows how Erdoğan will respond to these challenges. That is the big unknown. President Erdoğan is still the most powerful actor in Turkish politics.“
Critics have accused Erdoğan of quashing dissent. The 2018 presidential candidate for the pro-Kurdish party HDP ran his campaign behind bars, where he remains along with some opposition MPs.
Turkey is one of the biggest jailers of journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Can Selçuki, a pollster and general manger with Istanbul Economics Research, believed that politicians coming out publicly against Erdoğan was a notable moment for those who oppose the Turkish president.
“It’s a very significant event,“ Selçuki said. “[Erdoğan’s] not at his peak, definitely not.“
While Selçuki said Erdoğan’s popularity remains high, some of his previous voters are willing to look outside of the AKP.
“There is room for a new party in terms of the space of the Center-Right.“
However, Selçuki cautioned it is still unknown whether the new splinter parties will be able to lure voters.
Erdoğan has struggled domestically with an economic recession and Reuters reported in September that his party lost about one million members in the past year. Erdoğan claimed that the vast majority of that loss was due to deaths of members.
Davutoğlu on Friday called for an independent judiciary and said the presidential system was created to put as much power in the executive as possible.
Erdoğan held a referendum in 2017, winning a slim 51.4% to 48.6% victory, to shift Turkey to a presidential system that abolished the office of the prime minister, allowed the president to declare a state of emergency without approval of the cabinet and pass certain decrees without parliamentary approval.
Selçuki stated that Davutoğlu’s comments about his party’s values were too general to speculate how much of an impact he could have on Turkish politics.
"Everybody says these things anyway, we have to see them in action,“ he said. “Then we will see if [the parties] have appeal with the electorate or not.“
Selçuki said such values do still resonate with the Turkish voting public, pointing to the AKP’s loss in June’s mayoral election in Istanbul.
The party initially lost by a slim margin in March but the result was controversially canceled and the electorate served Erdoğan’s party a much bigger defeat in the rerun of nearly 800,000 votes in favor of the main opposition’s candidate.
Selçuki said according to his polling company’s numbers, Davutoğlu and Babacan could grab a combined 17% of the electorate, showing there are swing voters to attract.
“But potential and realization are two different things,“ cautioned Selçuki.
Kliniklioglu added that the parties will put stress on Erdoğan and his party.
“The two parties are likely to dent the AKP’s [popularity] as this is the first time since major personalities split from the party. Both Babacan and Davutoğlu were key figures in the AKP story. Erdoğan’s popularity remains high but it is likely to come under pressure,“ Kınıklıoğlu wrote.
Kınıklıoğlu suspected the parties could affect a future election, although he cautioned it was unknown what kind of context a vote would take place in.
Having two conservative parties is especially significant since many right-wing voters would not switch to the secular main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), even if they are discontent with Erdoğan’s party.
“These two parties will offer them important alternatives which may come at the expense of the AKP. I see the establishment of these parties as the beginning of a post-AKP era but not necessarily as a post- Erdoğan era,“ Kınıklıoğlu wrote.