Ankara, Turkey – Turkey‘s former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has launched a new political party in a challenge to the 17-year rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
Davutoglu, who served as prime minister and AK Party chairman from 2014 to 2016, unveiled the Future Party at a news conference in Ankara on Friday, a move dismissed as a non-threat by the president’s supporters.
Speaking in front of a backdrop decorated with the new party’s green leaf logo, Davutoglu pledged to uphold human rights and minority freedoms.
“The primary responsibility of the state is to provide political, cultural and economic conditions that provide a basis for the dignity of its citizens,” Davutoglu said at the event in Bilkent Hotel.
“There can be no state that neglects human beings and their fundamental rights or reduces them to a secondary position. The basis of a democratic administration is the equal and free use of fundamental rights and freedoms by all citizens.”
Criticising constitutional changes that concentrated power in Erdogan’s hands, Davutoglu said the presidential system introduced after a 2017 referendum had led to “a sharp decline in democratic standards”.
Ravza Kavakci, a member of the AK Party’s central committee, said Erdogan had nothing to fear from the new party.
“I don’t think the newly established party will have any effect on Turkish politics in the short, medium or long term,” she said.
“For 17 or 18 years, the AK Party has won and maintained the support of the Turkish people.”
However, she stressed the need for the AK Party to “change based on the demands of the people”.
“Our party will be livelier, more dynamic. We will answer the demands of our supporters as we always did. This is nothing new to us,” she added.
AK Party resignations
Davutoglu, 60, resigned from the AK Party in September, claiming it was failing to address the country’s problems. Another former AK Party cabinet member, Ali Babacan, quit two months earlier and is expected to announce his own rival party within weeks.
Their resignations reflect discontent within the AK Party, according to observers.
Harsh economic conditions saw the party lose key cities such as Istanbul and Ankara in local elections earlier this year and Erdogan has come to rely on an alliance with nationalists.
“The ruling party is losing ground and support from its base,” said Kemal Can, a columnist and political analyst at Duvar newspaper.
Even if the new parties do not exceed the 10 percent electoral threshold to enter parliament at the next election – due in 2023 although there is a possibility of early polls – they could attract a significant number of AK Party supporters.
“It might be small but there will be a definite effect on Turkish politics with the establishment of these new parties,” Can said.
“Even if these new parties do not offer anything new for the AK Party base and public, there is a growing and widespread discomfort with the ruling party.”
Davutoglu stressed the diversity of the Future Party’s 154 founding signatories, which include members from religious and ethnic minorities alongside former AK Party members.
Feramuz Ustun was one of many disaffected AK Party politicians on the list. He was a founding member of the AK Party in 2001 and served as an MP from 2011 to 2015.
He complained that the AK Party had lost touch with its roots and become dominated by a cabal of advisers surrounding Erdogan.
“The AK Party used to be the party of the people,” Ustun told Al Jazeera. “I am one of the founders of the party. Now it is no longer the party of the people. Over time it has evolved into the party of a clique.
“Erdogan himself told us many times that the party was neither ours nor his, but the party of the people. Unfortunately, that is no longer so.”
He said Davutoglu, who was forced to stand down as prime minister over disputes with Erdogan, was among the “many people who contributed from day one to the rise of AK Party who have been sidelined, dismissed or discredited”.
The Future Party, he said, “will try not to repeat the same mistakes”.