Turkish political scene is going through a crisis on all fronts. Erdogan is in his darkest hour. The coup attempt of July 2016 and the state of the economy is haunting him. His base is dissolving rapidly and he cannot command it like he once did. Erdogan is not doing so well in foreign policy either. Once he was the golden boy of the international community where he was praised as a moderate Islamist. Nowadays, he’s a hot potato nobody wants to really align with.
This crisis did not emerge overnight. It was a process we all watched in the last 20 years. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, A.K.P., began as a collective movement. Their main focus was to finish off what late Turgut Ozal, a former president of Turkey, started. Ozal is a figure that needs to be recognized if we want to understand the direction of the dissent that has a claim on his languishing base.
1980 Coup and Turgut Ozal Era
Military coups and how they changed civilian politics in Turkey is an entirely different conversation. However, the 1980 coup needs to be mentioned. The coup administration of 1980 dissipated a generation of intellectuals in prison cells and gallows in the name of curing anarchy, only to put a raging free market in its stead. The soldiers believed the source of anarchy was economical instability. They found the answer to their problem in a man called Turgut Ozal. Little did they know, time did not prove their assumption to be solely true.
Turgut Ozal claimed to believe in endless freedom. He quickly took a series of actions that opened the country economically and socially. New trade policies and regulations in the banking system did a tremendous job of flourishing the economy. While the previous political movements mourned their fallen comrades and licked their wounds, Turgut Ozal shined as the champion of the commerce circles and the international community. However, changes of such scale and pace had traumatizing effects on society. Cutting corners and getting things done at all costs were normalized. Religious organizations were revived to become voter bases. Economic corruption and moral erosion frequently made the headlines.
Emre Kongar, a renowned Turkish sociologist makes a remarkable observation in a documentary about the Ozal era by Mehmet Ali Birand. He says: “The ultimate goal of all politicians is to create a social class of their own. Ozal was successful in this endeavor.”
In my opinion, he couldn’t be more right: Ozal created the social class of adherents that Erdogan later started to command with almost natural talent. Now let’s move back to the current day and talk about the two styles of dissent who are targeting this very social class that is slipping through Erdogan’s fingers.
Davutoglu vs Babacan: Who Has It Right?
Erdogan, when he started out, acted as the frontman of a collective mind. Davutoglu and Babacan were both very important pieces of his administrative team. As Erdogan became the one-man-band he is today, there is only few left in his surrounding from these initial years. Now that he’s in his weakest, the former confidantes are coming forward by establishing new parties.
Both Davutoglu and Babacan obviously still believe in the benefits of such a collective mind as they are going back to it. Davutoglu already established his party and slowly but surely expanding it across the country. He expresses that he wishes to go back to the founding values of A.K.P. In other words, he intends to create a fresh A.K.P. and become the new frontman.
Babacan’s movement, on the other hand, is still an enigma. The movement has no other public face than Babacan himself. He already postponed the official declaration of the party a few times that he’s likened to a crying wolf. At this point, it is unclear whether the movement will be actualized. When asked, Babacan says they are working on an entirely different program that will bring the change that young people are hoping for. What’s interesting is that he’s strangely reserved and vague about the specifics of these efforts.
Clearly, there are more problems with Babacan’s movement than meets the eye. Opposing Erdogan is not an easy job. If Babacan is protecting people who are not ready to show their faces, either he has no choice or he’s put his faith in the wrong people. Erdogan is very smart in creating a day to day agenda and dominating the media – especially with Syria and Libya lately. If Babacan is hoping for a grand opening, he’s making a mistake, because he might never get the chance.
Babacan’s Toolbox Is Lacking
Every politician has a toolbox with various tools in it. Different combinations of these tools are known to work for their intended circumstances. However, there isn’t any circumstance that can be made or broken with one tool. Ali Babacan has one tool in his box, economy. Even when he served as the minister of foreign affairs, he did so with an emphasis on the economy. There is no denying that Babacan is incredibly smart and talented in the school of the economy he subscribes to. But there is also no denying that it severely limits his perspective. He’s counting on the new potential team members he’s intending to lead. But it seems he’s trying to compensate with the wrong ones.
In the few rare interviews he’s given out, Babacan openly admits that Abdullah Gul, a former president, is supporting their movement as an advisor. Abdullah Gul is the last person to advise a movement that intends to bring change. He is proved time and time again to be an extremely calculated person. Babacan is simply kidding himself if he thinks that Abdullah Gul wouldn’t put himself in the front lines if he thought the movement would be a definite success.
Another missing tool in the box is an understanding of history. It is clear Babacan wants to revive a political movement with the economy in its center. However, he’s missing something. Ozal led the country marking an end to the coup era and re-establishing democracy. People were simply exhausted by economic instability and hungry for change. As time went on, Ozal did lose the base he created because his corruption became obvious and the economy was shaken by high inflation once again. Today Erdogan may be facing the same challenges. Therefore, Babacan might be somewhat successful in gaining the favor of the people who are crushed under the evergrowing economic crisis. But if he’s waiting to be regarded like the initial years of Ozal, then he’s waiting for Godot.