Ruling AKP has led Turkey to ‘dark tunnel’, says former Erdoğan ally

(Recasts with a revised headline)

Ali Babacan, the Turkish former deputy prime minister who is preparing a new political movement to rival his former colleagues in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said during a televised interview on Tuesday that the AKP was breaking down because it had abandoned its founding principles.

Babacan, a founding member of the AKP, said the party now lacked transparency and accountability and was suffering from internal problems that had pushed the entire country into trouble. He reiterated his vow to establish a new party by the year’s end.

"There has been a significant departure from the [party's] principles. This has become a national issue,” Babacan told, in an interview with HaberTürk TV. “Problems began to emerge in Turkey, we feel that the country has entered a dark tunnel and we felt a serious responsibility toward our country."

Babacan said the party no longer carried out consultations with members in the decision-making process, and that some high-ranking officials were now wielding their powers arbitrarily and without accountability.

The ruling party’s loss of five of Turkey’s largest provinces in this year’s local elections is thought by many to have prompted Babacan and another AKP stalwart, former prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, to quit the party and plan new political movements.

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still commands the personal support of a large number of Turks, and he has accused the former AKP politicians of backstabbing him and seeking to “divide the faithful.”

Babacan compared his decision to form a new party to the founding of the AKP in 2001, a year when Turkey was facing an economic crisis and the backlash from a decade of political conflicts and war against Kurdish insurgents in the 1990s.

The AKP was established by Islamist politicians whose previous parties were outlawed by secularist courts after a military intervention toppled Necmettin Erbakan, a prime minister from the Islamist Welfare Party, on Feb. 28, 1997. Erdoğan and other former Welfare Party politicians gained support from liberal circles when they founded the centre right AKP and vowed to improve the country’s human rights record while following pro-European Union and pro-business policies.

“As you know, I am one of the founders of the party. While we were in the business world, we decided that the climate of Feb. 28 called for a new political movement and, together with our friends, we founded the AKP. There were important principles and values in its founding. Firstly, we valued human beings, human rights and freedoms,” Babacan said.

Rumours have been circulating for months that senior party members are preparing to follow Babacan and Davutoğlu out of the party. Many are reportedly dissatisfied with the new executive presidential system, which has placed vast executive power in Erdoğan’s hands.

Within months of the new system’s inauguration after elections in June 2018, Turkey found itself facing a serious currency crisis that had knocked nearly 30 percent off the lira’s value against the dollar by the end of the year. Babacan said the two were linked, since many investors have been scared off by the new form of government.

"Turkey will grow if it becomes a preferred destination for investors. Becoming introverted could be a political choice, but it is not our choice. We want this country to be a respectable country that can talk and work with everyone," he said.

While Erdoğan’s accumulation of powers has coincided with an increasingly independent foreign policy and frequent disputes with Turkey’s Western partners, Babacan is known for his pro-Western stance.

But the former deputy prime minister said there were serious problems in NATO and the European Union, and he expressed reservations on certain issues holding Turkey and its Western allies apart.

One of these relates to Halkbank, Turkey’s second largest state-owned bank, which is currently facing charges related to a scheme to break U.S. sanctions on Iran between 2010 and 2015.

Turkey must comply with international agreements, but imposing another country's decision on Turkey would be a violation of its sovereignty, Babacan said.