Ex-PM Davutoglu openly breaks with Erdogan’s AKP over politics and poor economy

In an unexpected break with the president’s party, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pointed to the ruling AK Party’s policy choices for the poor standing in municipal elections last month and for the looming economic crisis.

The AKP’s loss of Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities sparked a spirited debate within the party ranks and outside the party as the country takes stock of the implications of the elections.

In a written statement appeared on major media outlets on Monday, Davutoglu offered a bleak analysis of the current predicament of the ruling party.

“We can’t manage the economic crisis that’s in play by denying its existence. A governance crisis lies at the root of the economic crisis that we are living,” Bloomberg quoted the former prime minister as saying.

His diagnosis that the economic crisis is the government’s own making sharply contrasts to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s portrayal of the economic hardships as the product of global forces’ attack on Turkey. Davutoglu highlights the need for facing reality, urging the policymakers to face the consequences of their policy choices.

He warned against the negative impact of policies driving investors away from Turkey. “Scaring global investors necessary to the development of the country is a dead-end,” he said, according to Reuters.

The Turkish currency tumbled against the U.S. dollar last year after Ankara embroiled in a diplomatic tug of war with Washington over the imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson. Though the release of the American pastor soothed the jolted markets and helped lira recover, the looming showdown over Turkey’s intended purchase of the Russian air defense system signals a new potential meltdown in the Turkish currency.

The prospect of a new economic crisis has become all the more likely especially after the U.S. threat to place punitive sanctions against Turkey.

In a 15-page statement, Davutoglu registered his disapproval of the ruling party’s alliance with the nationalists in last month’s local elections. “The election results show that alliance politics have caused harm to our party, both in terms of voter levels and the party’s identity,” he said.

President Erdogan’s party went to the March 31 elections after forging an alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Although the AKP-MHP alliance, which is called the “People’s Alliance” (Cumhur Ittifaki), won more than 51 percent of the votes across the country, the AKP’s loss of Istanbul and Ankara came as shock to the president and his party. Both cities were governed by mayors from Islamist parties over the past 25 years.

The ruling party refused to concede defeat in Istanbul and challenged the vote from the first day. Its appeal triggered a vote recount in many parts of the city, but the election authority, though facing tremendous pressure from the government, refused to rule for a total recount in the entire city.

Davutoglu and former President Abdullah Gul are believed to lead efforts to found a new party to challenge President Erdogan. Though both names did not publicly acknowledge the media reports, Ankara is awash with such rumors.

Davutoglu became prime minister after Erdogan’s ascent to the presidential office. The former foreign minister failed to leave his personal imprint during his premiership due to a subtle power struggle with President Erdogan who crossed the bounds of official propriety to involve in day-to-day government affairs. In bypassing the constitutional provision that envisions an impartial and bipartisan president, Erdogan even chaired cabinet meetings and took part in policymaking, even to the dismay of Davutoglu.

In May 2016, Erdogan demanded the resignation of Davutoglu after growing disagreements between them and handpicked the more pliant Binali Yildirim as Davutoglu’s successor.

For the past three years, Davutoglu refrained from directly challenging Erdogan. But as the country resembled more and more an authoritarian country, former AKP bigwigs, though in public, expressed their disgruntlement among friends over how the country is governed.

But with this statement, Davutoglu now joins the political fray in a challenge to the president who is still popular and unchallenged among his constituency.

“Davutoglu certainly does not have the capacity or influence either over the party or AK Party supporters to challenge Erdogan’s rule,” Nihat Ali Ozcan, a Turkey expert, told Bloomberg. He argued that Erdogan is the one who “still calls the shots over the party and is likely to do so.”

Whether Davutoglu’s effort finds an echo within the AKP remains to be seen. But experts talk of growing divisions among different factions disillusioned by the direction of the party before and after the municipal elections. Whether some party members would reconsider their allegiance to the current party leadership in a possible break to join the new initiative by Davutoglu and Gul depends on how Erdogan and AKP leadership deals with the complaints from within.

A new party may not see light of day as it’s purported founders, former AKP senior leaders, fail to agree on who should lead the new party  

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