Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

A demonstrator shouts slogans during a protest against the economic policies of the government in Istanbul on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

Erdogan-Davutoglu standoff before launch of splinter party

  • Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector

ANKARA: Turkish domestic politics has seen intense infighting over the weekend between two leaders who were once close allies.

Former prime minister and architect of Turkey’s “zero problem policy with neighbors,” Ahmet Davutoglu, who is preparing to launch his opposition party, was called “fraudulent” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday.

Erdogan accused his former allies — Davutoglu as well as former deputy prime ministers Ali Babacan and Mehmet Simsek — of swindling state-run Halkbank by not making payments in time and by inappropriately allocating public land to Sehir University.

Babacan and Simsek are also expected to start another opposition party by the end of the year, which is believed to have liberal leanings.

Davutoglu is among the founders of the university being built on land in Istanbul’s Asian sector.

“They are not sincere people,” Erdogan said. “We allocated the land for the university just because we cared for them. How could I allot such a precious land otherwise?”

Around midnight, Davutoglu released a harshly worded press statement hitting back and called on the Turkish Parliament to investigate the wealth of the president and his family as well as that of high-ranking officials.

Davutoglu insists that the land for his university was allocated lawfully. The standoff is mostly seen as political revenge, not a legal conflict, especially as Davutoglu’s new party is expected to be announced within days.

The assets of Sehir University were recently frozen by a court order after Halkbank claimed that the university might not be able to pay back the $70 million credit it had taken. Sehir, which has more than 7,000 students, will be turned over to state-run Marmara University and hosts many foreigners from the Gulf region with their future at stake.

Davutoglu’s splinter party against Erdogan is set to launch within days at a press conference in Ankara.

The party, whose name has not been announced, intends to appeal to some of the disillusioned voters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), but also other segments including Kurds and Alevis.

Davutoglu has recently increased his criticism of the government, focusing on backpedaling on the rule of law, freedoms and rights.

According to a high-level official from the council of founders of Davutoglu’s incoming party, the latest row between Erdogan and Davutoglu would benefit the latter.

“It has created a feeling of victimhood among public opinion, and many people started to question the timing of this accusation and why this issue didn’t make headlines before. It is a political showdown,” he told Arab News on condition of anonymity.

“If Erdogan accuses his former allies of corruption and fraud, why did he insist on Babacan remaining in the party when he was determined to leave and establish his own party? It is also unfortunate to target an educational institution for trying to weaken an incoming political party.”

Davutoglu, a former academic, was forced to resign his post in 2016 over his disagreements with Erdogan. Davutoglu and the council of founders will disclose their wealth with the legal foundation of the party, and this step is expected to bring them more support from the public, which attaches importance to transparency in politicians.

According to a survey carried out by the Turkish polling firm Metropoll during Oct. 20-26 via interviews with 1,669 people in 28 provinces, 74 percent of AKP voters expressed themselves “loyal” to Erdogan. Over the past year, AKP has lost 10 percent of its members, say official figures.

Another survey by Ankara-based research company ORC showed that in a general election, 8.5 percent of the respondents would support Davutoglu.

To gain seats in the Parliament, new parties prefer to form coalitions with others that are more established to pass the 10 percent threshold. Davutoglu has been meeting politicians over recent months, especially Temel Karamollaoglu, the head of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party, which is represented in the Parliament.

Turkey, Russia discuss joint patrols option in Syria’s Idlib

Updated 15 sec ago

Turkey, Russia discuss joint patrols option in Syria’s Idlib

  • Ankara and Moscow have accused each other of flouting a 2018 de-escalation agreement
  • But there had been some rapprochement between Turkey and Russia in their talks on Idlib
ANKARA: Turkey and Russia are discussing possible joint patrols as one way to reach a deal to halt fighting and stem an exodus of civilians in Syria’s Idlib region, a Turkish official said on Thursday, a day after Ankara threatened military action to push back Syrian government forces.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the nine-year-old conflict, have failed to reach an agreement after two rounds of talks in the last two weeks.
A Syrian government offensive to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in northwest Syria has led to some of the most serious confrontations yet between NATO member Ankara and Damascus, and prompted Turkey to send thousands of troops and convoys of heavy weapons to the border area.
Turkey has taken in about 3.7 million Syrian refugees since the war started and says it cannot handle any more over its border, which is now closed. The United Nations says more than 900,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled their homes in Idlib since early December.
The Turkish official said the talks with Russia had not been “completely without a result.” The discussions had moved forward but reached no final decision, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Russia has maintained its position that Turkey withdraws from Idlib and evacuates its observation posts since the beginning. Withdrawing from Idlib or evacuating the observation posts is not on the agenda.”
“Various exercises are being discussed. For example, ensuring security through Turkish and Russian security officials and holding joint patrols could be possible,” the official said, adding that both Ankara and Moscow expected their presidents to “end the issue.”
Turkey, which backs rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, has threatened to use military power to drive back Syrian forces advancing in Idlib unless they withdraw by the end of the month. On Wednesday, President Tayyip Erdogan said a Turkish offensive into Idlib was a “matter of time.”
Ankara and Moscow have accused each other of flouting a 2018 de-escalation agreement that allowed Turkey and Russia to set up military observation posts in Idlib.
Turkey has said some of its posts in Idlib were surrounded by Syrian government forces, but that it would not evacuate the positions or move them. On Tuesday, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey had rejected alternative maps offered by Russia during talks.
Earlier on Thursday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there had been some rapprochement with Russia in their talks on Idlib but that they were still not at the desired levels.
“There is no such thing as the Russians imposing a map on us, we exchanged documents presenting our respective positions,” Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.
Russia, which backs Assad, has said a Turkish offensive into Idlib would be the “worst-case scenario” and that Russia would work to prevent the situation there from worsening. Iran, which also backs Assad, has said it was ready to mediate between Syria and Turkey if necessary.
The official said Turkey, Russia and Iran planned to meet in Tehran early next month to further discuss Syria, including the developments in Idlib. A Russian delegation may come to Ankara before that to evaluate progress made on Idlib, the person said.