Turkish Ex-Deputy PM Babacan resigns from ruling AKP, plans new party

A Turkish former deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, Ali Babacan, resigned from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Monday, citing differences over key policies, the latest sign of rift within the Islamist party. 

A founding member of the AKP, Babacan said he would seek to begin a separate political movement with new allies who have a new vision for Turkey, opposition newspaper Sözcü reported, citing an emailed statement by the former minister on Monday.

Babacan’s departure comes amid reports of growing discontent with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan within the AKP, which has ruled Turkey for 17 years. 

One-time allies of Turkey’s strongman such as the former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of Erdoğan, who gained sweeping executive powers with a presidential system that began last year.

“It has become inevitable that we initiate a new project for Turkey’s present and future. Many of my friends and I feel a great and historic need for such a project,’’ Babacan said. 

Widely lauded for successfully steering Turkey’s economy during the first decade of AKP rule, Babacan has also served as chief negotiator for EU accession and is known for favouring good relations with the West.

In his resignation letter, Babacan said, ''human rights, freedoms, advanced democracy and rule of law are the principles that we cannot give up on.''

“There have been lots of resignations from the AKP and none have really presented much of a challenge to Erdoğan,’’ Timothy Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, said on Twitter. “Babacan represents good economic management and now what is left around Erdoğan?’’

Babacan’s resignation and statement have put an end to months of speculation surrounding the formation of a new centrist party led by former Erdoğan allies and AKP heavyweights, including the former president, Abdullah Gül. 

The former AKP deputy prime minister is well respected by Western finance institutions. 

"Babacan's experience has shown strong political mettle in the face of pressures to adopt more populist measures. It was Babacan that attempted to rein in the Turkish construction sector back in 2015, and came to blows with Erdoğan over central bank independence," said Andy Birch, a principal economist at IHS Markit.

Earlier this month, Babacan was accused in a criminal complaint of “knowingly and willingly” aiding the outlawed Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt and designates a terrorist organisation.

The complaint was filed by a former subordinate of Babacan's at the Treasury.

More than 100,000 public officials have been dismissed or have faced charges over alleged links to the group.