Wave of resignations imperils Erdoğan’s parliamentary majority

Recent polls and rising dissent in his own party spell trouble for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose eroding support could lose him his majority in parliament.

A wave of resignations from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gathered momentum in the aftermath of this year’s local elections, in which the ruling party lost 11 big municipalities to the opposition.

The defeat in major cities including the capital, Ankara, and the most populous city, Istanbul, dealt a blow to the party’s leadership and authority. Intraparty opposition to Erdoğan has since gathered pace with moves by former AKP heavyweights to form two new political parties.

One is taking shape under Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister who was sidelined in 2016 and returned after the elections this year with a blistering critique of the ruling party.

This was followed by months of critical statements from the former prime minister until Sept. 4, when the AKP Central Executive Committee announced it was starting proceedings to expel Davutoğlu and his allies Selçuk Özdağ, Ayhan Sefer Üstün and Abdullah Başçı, all formerly senior members of the ruling party.

The four responded by resigning from the party last week, with Davutoğlu stating that the move to expel them targeted the AKP’s founding principles.

This triggered a flood of resignations, including dozens of members who had held important positions in previous governments: former parliamentary deputies, district and municipal mayors, councillors and organisation heads.

Özdağ, a former AKP deputy chairman, said 10 serving AKP deputies had pledged their support for Davutoğlu, but were for now withholding their resignations.

The number of resignations from Davutoğlu’s central Turkish home province of Konya reached 400 in a single day. Across Turkey as a whole, thousands have followed the former prime minister’s lead to resign from the ruling party since Sept. 13.

Davutoğlu is not the only focal point to which dissenting AKP members are gravitating. Ali Babacan, a former deputy prime minister who earned plaudits for his work running Turkey’s economy before being sidelined in 2015, resigned from the party in July, and said in an interview last week that he planned to launch a new political movement by the year’s end.

Babacan is joined by a cadre of former party bigwigs, including former Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, former Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay. Abdullah Gül, a former president who is frequently touted as a potential rival to Erdoğan, has reportedly lent his support to Babacan in an unofficial capacity.

These movements have reportedly added to a shift in the ruling party away from Erdoğan that has the potential to carry over to parliament. This is a worrying development for the president, whose party only commands a majority thanks to its alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

Some sources say that as many as 80 AKP deputies are preparing to jump ship. If so, the AKP’s share of the 600-seat parliament would be reduced to 211, and the ruling coalition’s current 41-seat majority would be lost, leaving the ruling party unable to pass laws through parliament.

Turkey’s Court of Cessation deals with party membership, and accepts resignations from political parties through its website.

The latest figures published by the court on Sept. 6 show that 844,391 people have resigned from the AKP since August 2018, leaving membership at 9.87 million people.

More than 56,000 of these resigned between July 1 and Sept. 6. Given the wave of resignations triggered since Davutoğlu’s on Sept. 13, that figure is likely to be significantly higher at the next count.

In other words, before either of the new parties of former AKP heavyweights has been formed, the official figures show that nearly 1 million members have abandoned the ruling party in the last year. There is bound to be a corresponding drop in their share of the vote since the national elections in June 2018.

A survey in September by AKP-linked pollster ORC Public Research showed that the AKP’s support had dropped to 30.6 percent. This is already a serious fall from the 42 percent it achieved in the June 24 parliamentary elections, but the scale of the party’s fall in support is even clearer when comparing it to the 49 percent of votes the party won in the elections on Nov. 1, 2015.

In the new executive presidential system, the president requires more than 50 percent of the vote to take the top position – in other words, a single vote could be of vital importance. One million lost votes would be disastrous.

ORC’s latest figures out MHP support at 14 percent – a long way off the amount required to swing things for Erdoğan.

The same survey asked respondents to answer whether they would cast their votes for the two new planned parties. Some 11.5 percent said they would vote for Babacan, and 8.5 percent for Davutoğlu.

A survey by MAK Research, another pollster known to be affiliated to the AKP, showed that the secularist main opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) had for the first time achieved a 31-percent vote share, surpassing the AKP to take the top place in the survey.

Nearly all surveys show the MHP gaining votes – a clear sign of why the AKP’s discourse and policies are drifting further toward the far-right line taken by its coalition party. The MHP is the winner in this alliance.

Yet the opposition bloc has been growing even stronger since last year’s elections, and the latest surveys show that it could command between 55 percent and 60 percent of the vote in a new election.

Turkish political circles say the danger the new parties pose to the AKP’s parliamentary majority could spur a snap election, if Erdoğan believes he could get away with a vote before the parties are formed. This would further consolidate MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli’s hold over the president.


© Ahval English

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