Last Tuesday, former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Ali Babacan for the first time appeared on national television as an opposition politician. The talk show received much attention, evident from the conversation on various social media platforms, despite the fact that there was a Galatasaray- Club Brugge game during the same hours. Hardly any event beats football in Turkey. However, this was to be expected. A former minister of several AK Party governments, speaking his mind and criticizing the government is always a spectacle.
Before going into the details of the talk show, let me make a reminder. It is unrealistic to talk about the share of votes that new parties will get before a party is even legally established. It is, however, possible to talk about the potentials. More important is the question whether if there is actually room for new political parties from the electorate’s preferences perspective. So any assessment on the talk show with regards to the vote share of a “Babacan Movement” is far-fetched.
Two things stood out from his appearance on the talk show. For the first time he spared no criticism to his former boss President Erdoğan and his AK Party. Although, he did not name any names, the recipient of his disapproval was obvious. This he needed to do, as his silence was stating to incur a cost on his potential.
Second was his passionate defense of a “positive agenda”. His movement’s political discourse appears to be based on policy making rather than entering the relentless political bickering that dominates Turkish political scene for more than a decade now.
Furthermore, Mr. Babacan did not object when the host of the talk show host suggested he appears as more of a “political organizer” than a “political leader”. It shows that his movement is not organized in the typical political hierarchy that voters are used to see. A model of inclusive policy making by expert cadres seems to be main character of the organization. This is a novel if not radical approach for Turkey and the same time a very risky one. Turkish electorate favors leaders in the most classical definition. General belief is that Turkish electorate prefers a leader that can put up a good street fight and can bang one’s fist on the table if need be. It remains to be seen if this approach is sustainable and indeed the recipe for success. Nevertheless, his calm, polite and constructive manner was perceived as refreshing my most viewers. Mr. Babacan aims for being the antithesis.
Mr. Babacan opted to talk about the principles of his movement, refraining to go into detail. Therefore, his views on democracy, personal liberties, justice and transparency were hard to object to. Much like motherhood and apple pie. He missed a good opportunity to cast at least some of the skepticism of the secular voters when he delivered his views on Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. His answer was well received in the end but a more direct answer with less hesitation, in short a better delivery would have been much more effective.
His current focus on back office technical work and meeting potential team mates from different walks of life kept him away from the public eye for long. Mainstream media appearance of last Tuesday is likely to have been prompted by rumors that his absence caused. So he made an appearance and talked about general principles and guidelines of his movement. He had one chance to do this and he used it. His opponents, the media and the general public will not be as patient as he is and demand that he gets his hands dirty by going into the details of his stance on specific issues.