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.