New parties forming in Turkey: Babacan versus Davutoğlu

Reports suggest two former senior figures in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are attempting to form new parties.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, appears to want to target the AKP constituency of devout, conservative Turks with an Islamist, agenda. Davutoğlu released a manifesto last week in which he criticised the AKP, giving the impression that he is of the opinion that the Islamic cause in Turkey is in trouble and he wants to revitalise it.

In other words, Davutoğlu’s main concern is to develop new policies to address the failure of the Islamic movement and revitalise political Islam under his leadership. Seen in this way, Davutoğlu promises continuity within Islamic politics.

Davutoğlu’s continued attachment to Islamism indicates he would continue Turkey’s somewhat distant relations with the West. Davutoğlu believes that Turkey has a special role and mission in global politics. 

But Davutoğlu’s legacy as foreign minister from 2009 to 2014 is a problem for his political career as many in Turkey hold him responsible for the country’s present foreign policy crises. Similarly, Davutoğlu’s Kurdish policy as prime minister from 2014 to 2016 is seen as having not been a success.

Meanwhile, Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, appears to want to target not only the AKP’s constituency, but also the larger centre and centre-right constituencies in Turkey. Babacan aims to consolidate those constituencies around a liberal and market-oriented political agenda. Babacan is not seen as an Islamist and could seek to make that an advantage and develop political dialogue with all sorts of other constituencies across Turkey.

Many see Babacan as the architect of the economic growth in Turkey in the first decade of the millennium. Though definitely not a charismatic leader in the traditional sense, Babacan is seen as being effective. He is likely to develop a practical narrative focused on real problems such as employment or inflation in contrast to the abstract and ideological discourse of Erdoğan, and indeed Davutoğlu.

There is no major party left in Turkey that now champions the country’s historical pro-Western trajectory. That is a gap that Babacan could fill by would developing a new positive stance towards the European Union. Leaders like Babacan should remember that Turkey’s relations with the West are vital, particularly in bringing the country back on the track of democratisation and the rule of law.

Among left or centre-right groups in Turkey there is an intellectual illusion that exaggerates anti-capitalist discourse and transforms it into an anti-Western ideology. Listening to them, one could believe the West is solely made up of grim capitalists and colonialists. This dangerous discourse ignores that there are many social democrat, socialist, liberal and centrist parties in the West.

But many leftist and centre-right Turkish intellectuals naively believe it is possible to democratise the country while distancing it from the West. They fail to understand that Turkey’s foreign policy orientation is vital for its democratisation, and even for secularism.

Discussions of new parties are particularly important in rethinking Turkey’s relations with the West. Turkey is not a superpower and those who are in process of forming new parties should come up with a reasonable foreign policy agenda that would help address domestic problems.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.