Since the repeat Istanbul municipal elections, new political parties that would be established by Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu have been on the top of the political agenda. Until very recently, President Erdoğan chose not to attack the two directly. At some point, it was even rumored that he had suggested the two come back to AK Party to work together. However, since then, it became clear that both politicians would found their own parties and try to go at it on their own. Yesterday Mr. Davutoğlu handed in his application to the Ministry of Interior for his party.

Following the establishment of İYİ Party, President Erdoğan opted a strategy whereby he neglected İYİ Party and its leader Ms. Akşener. He made sure to never speak of Ms. Akşener in an attempt to prevent her name from growing. However, the İYİ Party of Ms. Akşener was quite different from the two new parties. Our polling at the time revealed that İYİ Party would be able to convince an insignificant amount of AK Party voters to switch sides. Results of the elections indeed confirmed the polling.

This is not the case for Mr. Babacan’s and Mr. Davutoğlu’s parties. First, it is with certainty that the new parties will not take place in the People’s Alliance consisting of AK Party and the nationalist MHP. Furthermore, the natural source of votes for the two politicians will be disgruntled AK Party voters. After all, both of them served at the highest positions during several AK Party governments. Given the situation, instead of snubbing the two, President Erdoğan made it clear last week that he will attack them head on.

He did this from an unexpected angle. He blamed Mr. Davutoğlu to have unlawfully allocated public land to a university founded by his comrades. He further went on to implicate Mr. Babacan, regarding an allegedly questionable line of credit extended from a public bank to this university’s administration. Not only this line of attack will not hurt Mr. Davutoğlu or Mr. Babacan but also it has the potential to hurt AK Party more. For outsiders, this looks like a fight over a piece of land, a typical quarrel of clientelist politics for which AK Party has been increasingly criticized for. The fact that CHP municipalities keep the irresponsible spending by former AK Party mayors is helping feed this perception.

In fact, there was an easier, much more straight forward strategy that President Erdoğan could employ. For a long time now, all our polling points to two main sources of dissatisfaction among the public. First is the economy. The relative improvement in some macro indicators do not trickle down to the household. 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. Back in the day, AK Party was capable of devising such strategy and corner opposition and surely strategic rhetoric would work. It will be easy for both Mr. Babacan and Mr. Davutoğlu to dodge this bullet and perhaps even turn it around to make it work for their benefit.