By Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A former close ally of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan applied on Monday to register a new political party to challenge his ruling AK Party, saying Turkey needed a “fresh start” and calling for reforms to strengthen the rule of law and democracy.
Ali Babacan, a 52-year-old former deputy prime minister, announced last July he was resigning from the AKP over “deep differences” about its direction, and his announcement has been long-awaited.
Babacan a founding member of the AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, served as economy and then foreign minister before becoming deputy prime minister, a role he held from 2009 to 2015. He was well regarded by foreign investors during his time in charge of the economy.
“The need has emerged for a fresh start in Turkey,” Babacan said in an interview broadcast live on Turkey’s Fox TV.
“Nearly 20 years have passed (since the AKP was founded)… Turkey has changed and unfortunately the political party of which I was a member began to do things very contrary to its founding principles,” he said.
Babacan’s supporters submitted an official request to the Interior Ministry on Monday to establish the new party. Its name will be confirmed at a launch event on Wednesday.
“There is a powerful need to create a more prosperous and livable Turkey and this is not possible with the current political order,” Babacan said, stressing the importance of democracy, rule of law and human rights.
Opposition politicians, human rights groups and the European Union have long accused Erdogan and his party of trampling on basic freedoms, jailing critics, and undermining democracy, especially since a failed 2016 military coup.
In December another one-time close ally of Erdogan, former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, established the Future Party to rival the AKP.
Turkey’s poor economic performance since a 2018 currency crisis has also eaten into support for Erdogan and his party.
Last week, closely followed pollster Metropoll published a report showing Erdogan’s job approval in Turkey had fallen to 41.1%, down from 48% around October when a military operation launched in northeast Syria gave the president a boost.
The latest survey was carried out before Turkey’s ramped up a separate army operation in northwest Syria’s Idlib region.
However polls also show limited support for his emerging political rivals. A Metropoll survey last month put support for Davutoglu’s party at 1.2% and for Babacan’s prospective party at 0.8%. The poll put AKP support on 40%, down from 42.6% at a 2018 general election.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)