The Game is on: Erdoğan’s strategy against new parties

For a long time now, all our polling points to two main sources of dissatisfaction among the public. First is the economy. Second is the Syrian refugees and the Syria policy. Both are policy areas where Mr. Babacan and Mr. Davutoğlu were responsible for at the highest level of public office. It would have been much easier and strategically correct for President Erdoğan to link today’s woes to the wrong doings of the two during when they were in office.

Since the repeatIstanbul municipal elections, new political parties that would beestablished by Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu have been on the topof the political agenda. Until very recently, President Erdoğanchose not to attack the two directly. At some point, it was evenrumored that he had suggested the two come back to AK Party to worktogether. However, since then, it became clear that both politicianswould found their own parties and try to go at it on their own.Yesterday Mr. Davutoğlu handed in his application to the Ministry ofInterior for his party.

Following theestablishment of İYİ Party, President Erdoğan opted a strategywhereby he neglected İYİ Party and its leader Ms. Akşener. He madesure to never speak of Ms. Akşener in an attempt to prevent her namefrom growing. However, the İYİ Party of Ms. Akşener was quitedifferent from the two new parties. Our polling at the time revealedthat İYİ Party would be able to convince an insignificant amount ofAK Party voters to switch sides. Results of the elections indeedconfirmed the polling.

This is not the casefor Mr. Babacan’s and Mr. Davutoğlu’s parties. First, it is withcertainty that the new parties will not take place in the People’sAlliance consisting of AK Party and thenationalist MHP. Furthermore, the natural source of votes for the twopoliticians will be disgruntled AK Party voters. After all, both ofthem served at the highest positions during several AK Partygovernments. Given the situation, instead of snubbing the two,President Erdoğan made it clear last week that he will attack themhead on.

He did this from anunexpected angle. He blamed Mr. Davutoğlu to have unlawfullyallocated public land to a university founded by his comrades. Hefurther went on to implicate Mr. Babacan, regarding an allegedlyquestionable line of credit extended from a public bank to thisuniversity’s administration. Not only this line of attack will nothurt Mr. Davutoğlu or Mr. Babacan but also it has the potential tohurt AK Party more. For outsiders, this looks like a fight over apiece of land, a typical quarrel of clientelist politics for which AKParty has been increasingly criticized for. The fact that CHPmunicipalities keep the irresponsible spending by former AK Partymayors is helping feed this perception.

Infact, there was an easier, much more straight forward strategy thatPresident Erdoğan could employ. For a long time now, all our pollingpoints to two main sources of dissatisfaction among the public. Firstis the economy. The relative improvement in some macro indicators donot trickle down to the household. Second is the Syrian refugees andthe Syria policy. Both are policy areas where Mr. Babacan and Mr.Davutoğlu were responsible for at the highest level of publicoffice. It would have been much easier and strategically correct forPresident Erdoğan to link today’s woes to the wrong doings of thetwo during when they were in office. Back in the day, AK Party wascapable of devising such strategy and corner opposition and surelystrategic rhetoric would work. It will be easy for both Mr. Babacanand Mr. Davutoğlu to dodge this bullet and perhaps even turn itaround to make it work for their benefit.