Setback to Erdogan as ex-premier leaves party

Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is the second key AKP figure to resign from the party after Ali Babacan — a former deputy prime minister and economy minister. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2019

Setback to Erdogan as ex-premier leaves party

  • AKP began proceedings to expel Ahmet Davutoglu and three former legislators from the party for breach of discipline

ANKARA: The resignation of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, as well as several former and current MPs, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has shaken Turkish politics.

The AKP, “which is now under the control of a narrow cadre, no longer has the opportunity to be a cure for the country’s problems,” said Davutoglu, who had recently criticized the party’s policies.

“This administration … will be called to account before the nation. What they want to discharge is not people, but the collective conscience,” he added.

“From this day on, building a new political movement in light of our basic principles is required by our responsibility towards our nation.”

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said splinter movements from the AKP had been unsuccessful in the past. The country’s next elections are scheduled for 2023.

Davutoglu was mostly known for his policy of “zero problems with neighboring countries,” and for deepening Turkey’s regional engagement. His criticism of the AKP increased after its poor performance in local elections in March.

Splinter movements from the AKP have already emerged in recent months, accelerated by the party’s defeat in Istanbul’s mayoral elections in June.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan resigned from the AKP in July, and expressed his intention to lead a new political movement. 

Turkey’s former President Abdullah Gul is expected to support Babacan’s party without formally being part of it.

Increasingly critical over the erosion of the rule of law and economic recession in Turkey, Babacan said the new party will be formed before the end of the year.

According to a recent poll by Ankara-based research company ORC, in a general election 11.6 percent of respondents said they would vote for Babacan’s new party, while 8.5 percent said they would support Davutoglu.

Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said neither Davutoglu nor Babacan present a strong challenge to Erdogan or the AKP.

“Yet they have a chance to be quite important spoilers due to the shape of Turkey’s current political system,” he told Arab News.

“What matters for the opposition bloc is to bring votes for the AKP and its ally the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) down to 50 percent.”

He said Babacan’s standing in Turkish politics may rise due to the AKP’s economic mismanagement and the collapse of its Syria policy.

“When it comes to Davutoglu, I’m really skeptical as I can’t see any particular field in which he can present himself as a better choice than the AKP,” Wasilewski added.

“I think he’ll try to concentrate on economic, foreign policy and identity issues, but I doubt he’ll be successful. He’s seen by many Turkish voters as an architect of the current foreign policy, and thus its failures.”

Wasilewski said when it comes to the economy, Babacan is more appealing than Davutoglu. The former is known as the main actor behind Turkey’s economic boom for much of the 2000s.

The country currently faces high inflation, soaring unemployment, rising food prices and a recession.


Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

Updated 17 October 2019

Protests in Lebanon after move to tax calls on messaging apps

  • Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley
  • Demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

BEIRUT: Hundreds of people took to the streets across Lebanon on Thursday to protest dire economic conditions after a government decision to tax calls made on messaging applications sparked widespread outrage.
Demonstrations erupted in the capital Beirut, in its southern suburbs, in the southern city of Sidon, in the northern city of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley, the state-run National News Agency reported.
Across the country, demonstrators chanted the popular refrain of the 2011 Arab Spring protests: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Protesters in the capital blocked the road to the airport with burning tires, while others massed near the interior ministry in central Beirut, NNA said.
“We elected them and we will remove them from power,” one protester told a local TV station.
Public anger has simmered since parliament passed an austerity budget in July, with the aim of trimming the country’s ballooning deficit.
The situation worsened last month after banks and money exchange houses rationed dollar sales, sparking fears of a currency devaluation.
The government is assessing a series of further belt-tightening measures it hopes will rescue the country’s ailing economy and secure $11 billion in aid pledged by international donors last year.
And it is expected to announce a series of additional tax hikes in the coming months as part of next year’s budget.
On Wednesday, the government approved tax hikes on tobacco products.
Earlier on Thursday, Information Minister Jamal Jarrah announced a 20 cent daily fee for messaging app users who made calls on platforms such as WhatsApp and Viber — a move meant to boost the cash-strapped state’s revenues.
The decision approved by cabinet on Wednesday will go into effect on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a cabinet session, adding that the move will bring $200 million annually into the government’s coffers.
Lebanese digital rights group SMEX said the country’s main mobile operators are already planning to introduce new technology that will allow them to detect whether users are trying to make Internet calls using their networks.
“Lebanon already has some of the highest mobile prices in the region,” SMEX said on Twitter.
The latest policy “will force users to pay for Internet services twice,” it added.
TechGeek365, another digital rights group, said it contacted WhatsApp and Facebook regarding the matter.
“A spokesperson mentioned that if the decision is taken, it would be a direct violation of their ToS (terms of service),” it said.
“Profiting from any specific functionality within WhatsApp is illegal,” it added on Twitter.
But SMEX said that the 20 cent fee would be “a condition of data plans” offered by mobile operators.
“Also, Facebook previously complied with a social media tax in Uganda, which is effectively the same thing,” it said on Twitter.
Growth in Lebanon has plummeted in the wake of repeated political deadlocks in recent years, compounded by the impact of eight years of war in neighboring Syria.
Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86 billion — higher than 150 percent of GDP — according to the finance ministry.
Eighty percent of that figure is owed to Lebanon’s central bank and local banks.