Pace picks up for new Turkish parties as Cem Uzan talks of return

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan tried to mitigate the global animosity to Turkey’s Syrian operation on a trip to Washington this week, back home there were developments on two new political parties that could change the balance of domestic politics.

Meanwhile, Cem Uzan, an old foe of Erdoğan’s, has told the press he is ready to return to Turkey’s political staged after 10 years living in self-imposed exile in France.

Former big names of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) seized headlines earlier this year by announcing plans to form the rival parties, but the launch of Turkey’s military operation in Syria on Oct. 9 revived Erdoğan’s popularity and pushed the new political groups off the agenda.

With the AKP renegades going silent, claims surfaced saying they had quietly rowed back on their plans. But colleagues of the likely leaders of the new parties, former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and former deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, have denied these claims, reiterating that they will take tangible form before the new year.

Though Babacan has kept a measured silence during work on his new party, one of the leading names on his team, a former frontrunner from the AKP, told Ahval that work had reached its final stages.

The politician said the party had already drummed up excitement and high expectations, and said the process had drawn a level of interest similar to the establishment of the AKP in 2001.

The AKP was formed during a severe economic downturn by a mixture of politicians from Islamist parties banned by secularist courts during the 1990s and centre-right politicians, including Babacan.

Since 2015, when the ruling party found common cause with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), party veterans like Babacan say it has increasingly turned away from its more liberal founding principals towards nationalism and authoritarianism.

Babacan says he wishes to revive those old values, and the arrival of his political movement during an economic downturn has stirred up some enthusiasm among circles who see the former economics czar, who helped drag Turkey out of a crisis in the early years of AKP rule after 2002, as a potential solution for its current economic woes.

The party will launch on schedule by the new year, said Babacan’s colleague, who declined to be named. But though this is the same time frame given by Davutoğlu, there is no chance of the two parties joining forces, he said.

“Mr. Davutoğlu is going down his own path, and we have ours,” the politician said.

The rumours that Babacan was ready to drop his plans for a new party and instead accept an invitation from Erdoğan and return to the government were unfounded, he said.

Davutoğlu’s faction is likewise determined to stay the course. The former prime minister has gathered AKP renegades from the party’s Islamist ranks, and his two meetings since October with Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, have raised speculation that they could launch a unified party.

The Felicity Party leader had said that his party would be open to Babacan or Davutoğlu joining, but the latter is ideologically far better placed to make the move.

Karamollaoğlu also hinted that he would be ready to hand over the leadership to a new contender before the Felicity Party conference on Nov. 3. No candidates stepped forward, but there appears to be a high possibility that Davutoğlu could launch his own party and then unite with the Felicity Party, taking the older leader’s place. The Felicity Party membership is believed to approve of the suggestion.

While the two veteran politicians are preparing movements that could rival Erdoğan’s AKP, a third old name appears to be on the verge of a return to Turkish politics.

Uzan, a businessman who became an early political opponent of the AKP, fled the country in 2009 after assets worth billions were seized in criminal investigations.

While Uzan has been implicated in several shady incidents around the world, many believe the investigations in Turkey were motivated by Uzan’s political opposition to Erdoğan. His nationalist Young Party stood in general elections in 2002 and 2007, but despite poor results Uzan has kept it open while living in self-imposed exile in France.

However, rumours of Uzan’s impending return have been circulating for months, buoyed by the news of legal victories that could see many of his assets returned.

Last week the businessman told Turkish journalist Sabahattin Önkibar that he was ready to return to Turkey within two months and that he planned to run for the presidency in the next election.