872 members of Erdoğan's Islamist AKP party resign en masse

A new front opens up for the Turkish president in Aydin province that questions his leadership with elections a year away

PHOTO/ Servicio de Prensa Presidencial vía AP  -   Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to the media before leaving for Baku, Azerbaijan, at the airport, in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's problems are piling up. The Turkish president this week saw 872 members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the province of Aydin resign en masse due to a lack of internal dialogue and continuous pressure on party members, according to Turkish media reports. An internal haemorrhage that questions his leadership and highlights the growing division within the Islamist party with a year to go before the presidential elections.

Erdogan himself was in the western Mediterranean province, one of the country's 81 provinces, on the day the mass desertion of AKP members came to light. This figure could rise in the coming days. The president attended the inauguration of a paper factory and later visited the Gökbel dam and "other newly built facilities in Aydin", according to the presidential agenda.

Among the resignations was the head of the Germencik district, Emel Öz Akmazlar, who denounced the party's regional mismanagement and interference from the AKP leadership against several members of the local Islamist party. This pressure also affected women and was allegedly exerted by the AKP's partner in government, the extremist Nationalist Action Party (MHP).

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The avalanche of resignations comes in a region, Aydin, where the AKP did not do well in the 2018 general elections. The Republican People's Party (CHP), which concentrated its support along the Mediterranean coast, came out ahead. Although the Kemalist formation would end up finishing second with a difference of more than 10 million votes, in 2023 it will have a new opportunity with two strong candidates: the mayors of Istanbul, Ekrem İmamoğlu, and Ankara, Mansur Yavaş.

Erdoğan will have to manage, in addition to the economic crisis, a scenario of internal fracture within his own party. Analysts believe that the AKP has been fracturing in recent months and atomising into various tendencies, especially in the regional centres. In this sense, the president's decisions have generated the rejection of the grassroots, who see how their leader is unable to overcome the galloping inflation and the devaluation of the lira.

Polls place Erdoğan further away than ever from a hypothetical re-election. According to the latest poll published by MetroPOLL, the current president would obtain 36.6 per cent of the vote, while İmamoğlu would amass 48.7 per cent and Yavaş would get 55.5 per cent, making him the leading political figure in terms of voting intentions. These numbers, with no contenders yet to be determined, are worrying for the Islamist party, which could find itself out of power 16 years later.

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -  Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. Leader of the Future Party (GP)

This scenario would explain the contacts between the architect of Turkish expansionism, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and several AKP MPs. According to the London daily Al Arab, at least 40 members of the ruling party have met in recent months with Erdoğan's former main partner to sound out a possible transfer to the Future Party (GP), the formation founded by Davutoğlu in 2019 when he left Erdoğan's party due to his strong disagreements with the party line.

Since the outbreak of the crisis, the former prime minister and foreign minister has criticised "the policy of stubbornness pursued by the ignorant in the affairs of the economy" adopted by Erdoğan, who has decided to lower interest rates against the majority opinion of experts. Davutoğlu accused the president of covering up the economic crisis by "exploiting" the religious sentiments of Turkish society. These remarks seem to have convinced his former AKP colleagues.

The father of Ankara's foreign policy over the past decade could use the growing internal division to his advantage to form an alliance against the president in the run-up to 2023. A roadmap for which he would need to win over the moderate Islamist space that, step by step, Erdoğan has been abandoning along the way.